NEW ORLEANS — NBA fans all over the world see the main events each night on All Star Weekend, but during the day, there are countless other appearances by players and coaches throughout the three day experience.
The Thunder has been extremely active over the past few days, even extending back to Wednesday when Russell Westbrook made sandwiches for patrons at a Subway restaurant in Los Angeles.
Since the Thunder contingent arrived in New Orleans, Kevin Durant, Reggie Jackson and Steven Adams have participated in five non-NBA events.
On Saturday, Adams made an appearance with Adidas, which was followed up by Durant dropping by the Foot Locker House of Hoops to meet with local youths and answer their questions.
Bright and early Sunday morning, Adams and Jackson were both out in the community at separate events.
Adams and Giannis Antetokounmpo from the Milwaukee Bucks were coaches for a pickup game featuring international media covering All-Star Weekend.
Taking his job somewhat seriously, Adams was motivating his team, urging them to get back on defense and take good shots. But he also took some not-so-serious jabs at his opposing coach and, of course, the referees.
Adams said afterwards the experience of coaching his team, which called itself the Thunder, gave him a new respect for what coaches have to go through. “Coaching is pretty hard, especially with the subs, but it’s even harder with the referees!”
The Thunder’s rookie center also talked about how important it is for these international journalists to be covering the All Star game and trying their hand at basketball.
“It’s great that the media gets to jump in there and play ball because they’re writing about it,” Adams said. “You see some media guys who never played the game before, but they write about it. It’s great to see these guys getting involved. especially taking it back to their countries where basketball more than likely is not the dominant sport. That’s a big time thing, right there.”
Jackson took part in a youth basketball clinic at the New Orleans Convention Center’s NBA JAM Session, helping about 40 kids to improve their basketball skills with dribbling, shooting and rebounding drills. Along with Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore and the Los Angeles Sparks’ Lindsay Harding, Jackson put the kids through a tough but fun workout that resembled some of the FIT Clinics that the Thunder hosts in Oklahoma during the season.
“They enjoyed our presence and we enjoyed theirs,” Jackson said. “It’s always great to give back to the kids.”
The children in attendance were obviously thrilled at the opportunity to meet Jackson and the other professional basketball players, but one in particular, Jake Shapiro, was the most excited. The 11-year old was wearing a Kevin Durant jersey, and explained why getting to hang out with Jackson was special for him.
“We got to do dribbling and also we got to meet some NBA players and WNBA players, which was really cool,” Shapiro said. “It was cool because he’s the point guard for the Thunder and he plays with my favorite players, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.”
Events like these are ones in which Thunder players thrive, as they get to give back to the game of basketball and help it grow and advance with the youngest generation of Americans. Parents like Andrew Srebnik were on hand and marveled at the impact Jackson and the others had on the group.
“It gives the kids a chance to meet these kids and realize they are regular people,” Srebnik said. “They started the same way our kids did. They started doing drills, getting up Saturday and Sunday morning to practice.”
In the afternoon, just hours before Sunday night’s All-Star Game tipped off, Durant swung by JAM Session to play the NBA 2K14 video game with four lucky kids, including a Thunder fan named Cameron who was wearing Durant’s jersey.
Thunder players have kept busy all weekend, but everyone’s sights are set on tonight’s big game. Durant is looking forward to joining the Thunder coaching staff as they represent the Western Conference, and Jackson and Adams are excited to cheer them on from the stands.
“I’m honored to be here representing Oklahoma City and the team and am just having fun with it,” Jackson said. “Of course I have to make it and go watch my teammate Kevin. I have to go watch him do his thing tonight and wish him the best. I can’t wait to watch the show.”