In December 2016, I was fortunate enough to begin working for the Thunder in the Community Relations Department. Photo: (Left to right) Me, Debbie Williams, Bea Rodgers.
“I am the biggest Thunder fan!” I have heard this expression hundreds of times. The words lose their meaning because we hear them so often at the office, at the games, or on a phone call. There are many that claim to be the biggest fan, but Bea Rodgers truly is the number one Thunder fan.
Bea lives in an assisted living center in Oklahoma City, one of the many places the Thunder players stopped during the Acts of Kindness outreach program this past December.
Wearing her crocheted royal blue and sunset hat and a hand-knitted blue sweater, Bea approached Enes Kanter and told him how to shoot a free throw. “You need more arch,” Bea told him. Enes and Bea got along great that day, and the photographer was able to capture a phenomenal shot of the two hugging and smiling. Enes, with his soft spot for community outreach, wanted Bea to have the photo to remember that day.
Bea Rodgers opening the autographed photo with Kanter.
I’ve become good at managing time, meeting deadlines, and finishing tasks efficiently over the past four years thanks to classes, workshops, internships, and leadership positions. This internship was unique because I learned how to do things with purpose. It’s easy to let your purpose slip to the back of your mind or let tasks become another item to check off a to-do list, but in community relations, you demonstrate and experience the purpose every day.
The leadership in the community relations department exemplifies the mission of the Thunder every day. Everything the department does is to make someone else feel important and build them up. My supervisor, Debbie Williams, showed me that work isn’t always about checking off daily tasks. Sometimes you need to give up your valuable time to stop and make someone else’s day.
Enes signed the photo of him and Bea hugging and drew a heart with her name in it. Debbie framed the photo and wrapped it, and I added some Thunder fan gear. We could have just mailed the photo, but instead, we delivered it personally. We went to the front desk and spoke to the manager to find Bea’s room and learned that it was her 91st birthday. We couldn’t believe how perfect the timing was.
Next to her door hung two signs. One read “Most Handsome NBA Team,” and the other said “MVP Russell Westbrook, Mr. Thunder.” The way she lit up when she opened her door was incredible. She didn’t even know why we were there, but she was happy to see us.
Bea’s handmade signs showing her Thunder spirit.
Bea invited us in to show off her hand-stitched Thunder gear and proceeded to tell us details about every past and present player. She proudly pulled out more of her work, including a Thunder-colored hat, quilt, and jacket, newspaper clippings for every past and present player, a Thunder calendar, and crocheted roster books with every player for each season. When she opened her gift, she kissed the photo and proudly turned it around for everyone to see. I couldn’t believe how much joy this basketball team gave her, and I wondered how many others experienced it as well. This is a day I, and definitely Bea, will never forget.
I watched Debbie give up so much of her time to serve others and make the department better. We stayed and talked to Bea so long that we didn’t have time to go out to lunch like we planned. Every day when I would walk into the office, I’d see a half-eaten yogurt sitting on her desk. “I just didn’t have time to finish that this morning,” she would always say, yet she had time to stop and ask someone about their family or a recent vacation.
Thunder is much more than a basketball team. There are people who don’t know anything about basketball that are huge Thunder fans. Debbie worked with Sam Presti on a leadership program for high school students. One day, she got an invitation from one of the students to attend his ROTC ceremony. Debbie and I showed up and he was grinning from ear to ear the entire time. We spoke to him after, and he told us he texted Sam, but he had something going on that night. He wasn’t a big basketball fan and probably didn’t realize Sam was busy trying to re-sign the potential MVP of the league. What other NBA general manager would give out his cell phone number to keep in touch with students in the youth leadership program?
I grew more impressed with the organization every day. Most of the time I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do the things I was assigned. There were many education programs I had the privilege of helping with. Each program is successful and impactful. I helped prep for many Thunder Fit Clinics, an interactive exercise and nutrition program that allows students to interact with the players. I also helped with other player and student programs such as the Rolling Thunder Book Bus, Reading Timeouts, and court dedications.
Community relations is a selfless job. It requires giving up weekends and evenings, stepping out of your comfort zone at times, putting others’ needs before your own, and radiating genuine positivity on and off the clock. The Thunder’s high standards, caring employees, and respectable players are the reason so many people are competing for the title of #1 Thunder Fan.