Ibaka Spends Two Afternoons in Moore
With a brotherly arm over the shoulder, Serge Ibaka comforted police officer Bryan Bartels in front of what was left of his Moore house. At the same time, Ibaka greeted Bartels’ daughter Mara, who was approaching with her mother and younger sister, with a wave and a big smile. Using his trademark wingspan and his gentle spirit, Ibaka made the day of a family who has endured an extremely difficult week.
Ibaka had left town just prior to the May 19th and May 20th tornadoes that ripped through Shawnee, Moore and other communities within the Oklahoma City area. With an impending trip to visit his family on the horizon, Ibaka made sure to come back to town to check in with Thunder fans and Oklahomans who have meant so much to him over the past four years.
“I’m trying to do the best I can to help,” Ibaka explained. “I always say that here is my family too. These people are my family too.”
On Monday and Tuesday Ibaka spent hours in Moore visiting with tornado victims, families and volunteers, including special trips to three police officers’ houses on Tuesday. In addition to brightening citizens’ afternoons, Ibaka distributed gift cards to help families get back on their feet and also rode aboard a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle, giving out meals to families and volunteers who were cleaning up affected areas. Over the two-day period, what stood out the most to Ibaka was how much resolve, resiliency and faith the residents he met with displayed.
“(They’re) very strong,” Ibaka said. “Especially yesterday, you saw people trying to do the best they can to move on. It’s something they cannot control.”
Last week many members of the Thunder organization – players, coaches and staff included – made their presence felt in the community whether it was with visits to Moore, the OU Children’s Hospital or to donation and supply distribution centers. Ibaka wanted to find a way to make a personal impact to those who have suffered as a result of the storms as well.
By stopping by to talk to police officers Austin Childs and Tim Kraeger and their families, the 23-year old Congolese forward was able to do exactly that. Kraeger works as an officer at Thunder home games at Chesapeake Energy Arena, so Ibaka’s trip to Moore was particularly influential to Kraeger’s 17-year-old son and basketball fanatic, Casey. A rising senior in high school, Casey Kraeger hopes to play basketball in college and was able to talk hoops with one of the men who leads his hometown Thunder squad on the court every night.
“It’s nice that he came and helped the community,” the younger Kraeger said. “It’s good to see him.”
A noticeable feature of all of the neighborhoods that Ibaka traversed is that besides the devastating wreckage, families made sure to display their Thunder pride with flags, t-shirts and other memorabilia. Just as the community has supported one another with endless donations and a flood of volunteers, Oklahoma has rallied around the Thunder as a common signifier of their unity and strength as a whole.
“It’s amazing how people really like the team and support the team,” Ibaka said. “When they have bad moments and hard moments, they show some love for the team.”