The 2020-21 Oklahoma City roster proves a point that I’ve heard many times over the years.
We’re only cheering for laundry.
Like many Oklahomans, I’ve been a Thunder fan since the team relocated here in 2008. I’ve been to many games over the years.
Along the way, I adopted many Thunder players as my own. Russell Westbrook. Nick Collison. Serge Ibaka. Steven Adams. Andre Roberson. Jerami Grant. Enes Kanter. James Harden. Even Kevin Durant. Especially KD.
The list goes on.
For several years, we had a core of players that we knew and could count on leading the Thunder lineup every season. We got to the NBA Finals with that lineup one year and should have made it to another if Patrick Beverly had not assaulted Westbrook.
But that’s another story. My point is that I became comfortable with our players and our team, although the roster was slowly turning over as we lost Harden, Ibaka, Kanter, et al over time.
Then KD left abruptly. But Russell stayed, and while we added and subtracted new players, our core stayed relatively stable.
Then 2019-2020 happened and the Thunder as I’ve known them disappeared. Westbrook long gone. Grant gone. Adams gone. Dennis Schroder gone. Chris Paul came and went from OKC a second time.
By the time the 2020-21 season started, we had four — four! — players from our previous roster, none of them long-time beloved stars.
So, I’m still watching the Thunder nightly, but with much less passion. I know Sam Presti’s plan is to lose now to chase potential later. But I don’t have to like it.
A friend I’ll call “Steve” accused me of being a fan of mediocrity.
“Winning by losing,” he said. “What a great concept.”
But we weren’t mediocre. The Thunder that I knew were great and went where small market teams almost never go, to the NBA Finals. And with players we knew and loved.
Now, we’ve turned the roster over and acquired dozens of first round draft choices, because the grass is always greener in the future.
I’m not sure if mass roster changes will ever end as Presti chases the elusive future player who will bring us championship glory.
It’s a bittersweet relationship, but now I know. We’re only cheering for laundry.
On a whim one day this week, I stepped out of my car and shot a photo of the long-vacant Homeland store at NW 122nd and May Ave.
I was waiting for my daughter to come out of a haircare store in the strip center when the abandoned grocery store caught my attention.
I shopped there many times in the late 1980s, along with what appeared to be most of my fellow NW OKC citizens. It was a busy, busy place.
It’s sort of bewildering to see the anchor store of this whole intersection sit empty year after year. Is there no one with an idea or the resources to bring it back to life?
Anyway, I quickly tweeted out the photo with a short message, describing it as a “hip-hop happening place” in the ’80s, because that’s how I thought of it.
Little did I know that the words “hip-hop” would trigger an avalanche of interest in the post. Within 24 hours, the post had 15,000 views.
Two days later, views top 20,000 and almost 1,500 Twitter users had actually clicked on the photo for a closer look.
At first, I thought, ‘wow, there’s a lot of interest in this old, abandoned grocery store.’
Then it hit me. There are a lot of hip-hop fans out there who follow everything related — music, lifestyle, people. I’m sure many of them have set their accounts to send an alert anytime the words ‘hip-hop’ are mentioned in a tweet.
By Saturday morning, the Tweet had more than 27,000 views. And growing.
It’s been my first brush with a viral tweet, all because I wasn’t hip-hop enough to know what I was saying.
Editor’s note: I’m not sure about you, but I look back on my life and know exactly where I was on certain milestone events. Some are world events and some are personal. Recently, we’ve had several milestone events that we will look back on and know exactly where we were when we heard the news.
I was sitting in my recliner, holding my 19-month old grandson Friday morning when I saw the news on CNN. Henry Aaron was dead at 86. Another huge piece of my youth gone.
Immediately, I thought back to April 8, 1974. On that evening, I was sitting in the living room of a friend in Mena, Ark., watching Aaron and the Atlanta Braves play the Dodgers. Hammerin’ Hank hit career home run No. 715 that broke Babe Ruth’s record early in the game. It was a milestone that had long been anticipated and marked by a lot of racist ugliness because Aaron was black. I felt relief that it was finally over.
Aaron’s record HR and his passing were both personal and national milestones that got me to thinking of other big national — and personal — events of my lifetime: where was I when I heard the news?
So, I sat down and compiled a list of what comes to mind.
Nov. 22, 1963 — JFK assassination. This was an incredibly traumatic event both for the nation and a 10-year-old me. I was sitting in a 5th grade classroom at Crockett Elementary in Bryan, Texas, when we all heard the news. My teacher, Ms. Skrivanek, cried. I thought of nothing but that event for weeks.
April 4, 1968 — Martin Luther King assassination. I was a ninth grader living on the island of Okinawa with my military family. I don’t remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I do know it was traumatic for both the nation and for the thousands of Americans living far from home.
June 6, 1968 — Robert Kennedy assassination. I remember this moment because my family and I were about to board an airplane that would take us to Taiwan for a week of vacation. I kind of felt like the world was coming apart because the MLK assassination happened only weeks before.
July 20, 1969 — The moon landing. This was huge. We got to stay home from Sunday night church to watch the first man step on the moon. My dad was in Vietnam, and I watched it with my mom and my sister in our living room in Fort Smith, Ark. I’m pretty sure we still had a black and white television.
Dec. 6, 1969 — Richard Nixon visits Fort Smith. This is purely personal, and I’ve written about it before. But I was at the airport to greet Nixon as he passed through town on his way to Fayetteville for the Arkansas-Texas football game. I got to shake his hand.
August 16, 1977 — Elvis has left the building. Time marches on and I was in college in Abilene, Texas, working at a small clothing shop. A neighboring merchant came into the store and told us that Elvis was dead. If you aren’t old enough to remember, Elvis was a pretty big deal.
December 8, 1980 — John Lennon murdered in NYC. This one hit me almost as hard as JFK’s death. I was in the living room of a friend in Roland, OK. We were switching back and forth from Monday Night Football to some other show, but Howard Cosell broke the news and we heard it. Devastating. Until that moment, I was still dreaming of a Beatles reunion. No more.
April 19, 1995 — The OKC Bombing. I was a reporter for The Oklahoman sitting in a meeting of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission on NE 63rd Street when the building was rocked by the compression from the bomb about 5 miles south of us. Someone speculated a gas explosion. Someone else an airplane crash. Then someone came into the room and said a bomb had exploded at the federal building. It seems that everyone in OKC knew someone who lost their life or was directly impacted from the bombing. We are still living with the fallout of it.
September 11, 2001 — The Twin Towers. I was about to take my 5-year old son to his pre-K class at Washington Irving Elementary when the Today Show reported that an airplane had hit one of the towers. I thought it must have been a Cessna or something. Little did we know how devastating and traumatic it would turn out to be.
July 4, 2016 — Kevin Durant signs with Golden State Warriors. If you aren’t a Thunder fan, this is no big deal. But I am and it hit me hard. We were at my mother in-law’s house near Hammon, and I was refreshing my computer over and over on KD’s Players’ Tribune page. Finally, there it was, in black and white. Our favorite player was ditching OKC after 8 years. We were devastated.
Jan. 6, 2021 — A day that will live in infamy. Like most of America, I was watching the debate over the Electoral College certification when the mob broke into the Capitol. Insurrectionists, white supremacists, traitors, all the same to me. They are egged on by a would-be dictator not grounded in reality.
Jan. 20, 2021 — Free at last! Started the day at 6:30 am from my living room watching Trump slink out of town. Then watched and celebrated Biden’s inauguration. A day of promise.
Early morning anglers casting into Grand Lake’s Horseshoe Cove this past summer might have done a double-take if they spotted a lime-green kayak plowing across the water with no human pilot aboard.
What they were witnessing was MANUEL, a creation of Oklahoma State University engineering graduate student Muwanika Jdiobe.
MANUEL – an acronym for Mobile Autonomously Navigable USV for Evaluation of Lakes – was created by Jdiobe as a project for OSU’s Unmanned Systems Research Institute (USRI).
Jdiobe recently made a virtual presentation about MANUEL and what his research at Horseshoe Cove uncovered at the Oklahoma City Innovation District’s Student Showcase on Unmanned Systems.
The showcase was the third in a series of student showcases presented by the Innovation District in conjunction with OSU’s USRI.
“Our vision is to get the best minds in the same room to meet, share research, information and ultimately, drive innovation in Oklahoma and around the country,” said Austin Bowles, the Innovation District’s digital marketing director.
Jdiobe was one of two OSU students affiliated with USRI who described projects that measured water depth and quality or mapped invasive vegetation on a lake that provides critical drinking water.
Before it was deployed on its Grand Lake mission, MANUEL was outfitted with an electric motor that provided propulsion, along with GPS equipment that allowed precise autonomous navigation, along with sensors that collected information on water quality and depth.
“The whole time I was sitting on the shore just observing her execute her mission,” Jdiobe said. “After every mission, MANUEL has to return to the point at which she was launched so we can extract all the data that was collected.”
The project was conducted in coordination with OSU environmental scientists who sought data about the lake and how pollution was impacting its depth and water quality. The goal is to better understand and prevent harmful algal blooms caused by agricultural runoff. One such bloom shut down Grand Lake on July 4, 2011, its busiest day of the year.
“MANUEL can reach very difficult places that other technologies cannot reach,” Jdiobe said. “We came to learn that MANUEL can actually work in very harsh conditions, even when we have strong winds and heavy rainfalls.”
The second presentation at the Student Showcase involved the mapping of Stillwater’s Lake Carl Blackwell on behalf of OSU and the City of Stillwater.
OSU mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate student Andrew Cole described how two unmanned aerial vehicles – drones – were used to map the lake and assess the growth of unwanted vegetation.
“The problem we applied this to was Floating Yellow Heart, which is an invasive species that was found in Lake Carl Blackwell, the main water source for the OSU campus and parts of Stillwater,” Cole said. “It is a lily pad that grows in such dense mass that it blocks out the sunlight and chokes out natural plants.”
The project involved outfitting two drones with cameras – some of them multispectral which filters certain light waves – to make high-resolution photos of the lake.
Using what is known as photogrammetry software that stiches the photos together to make a composite photo, scientists were able to assess the exact locations of the Floating Yellow Heart and apply herbicide to kill it.
The path the drones followed was plotted beforehand, so the unmanned aerial vehicles flew a precise route.
“With this automation method, we can actually fly the lake by one person in about two hours, or two people in one hour because you have two vehicles in the air,” Cole said. “Using unmanned aerial systems is a cheap and efficient way to get data that a lot of times you can’t get any other way.”
Added Victoria Natalie, program manager at OSU’s Unmanned Systems Research Institute: “With drones coming into their own as a research tool, we’ve really been able to expand different ways of getting information across, collecting data and furthering research.”
Natalie is leading USRI’s expansion in the Oklahoma City Discovery facility, recently donated to OSU, which will enable closer connections between OSU and the Oklahoma City Innovation District.
It was the year that Nixon/Kissinger reached out to China and opened the U.S. to an important trading partner that had only been seen previously as an arch enemy.
It was the beginning of the end of AT&T’s monopoly of the nation’s telecommunications industry, with an FCC ruling that opened the door to a second long-distance calling provider.
It was the end of the link that tied the U.S. dollar to the value of gold, opening the way to what are known as “floating exchange rates.”
Walt Disney World opened in 1971, as did a little coffee business known as Starbucks, as well as the Nasdaq trading market. The 26th amendment passed that gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. Intel introduced the 4004 chip, considered the first “computer on a chip” and launching a wave of technology innovation that continues today.
The Journal article pointed out that all of these events happened in a single year exactly 50 years ago.
Then it hit me. I graduated high school in 1971, which means I’ve been out of high school for half a century.
The thought almost brought me to tears as I was hit by a wave of nostalgia.
I’m not nostalgic for my high school class, because I never, ever sat at the cool kids table. I was a cool kid wannabe, but never made the cut.
I was mostly invisible to my classmates at Southside High School in Fort Smith, Ark.
So, why did this article hit me so hard? I think it’s because I had never really given any thought to how many years had passed since Graduation Day in 1971.
And how I’ve lived sort of my own version of Forrest Gump’s life in the intervening 50 years, still trying to be one of the cool kids and never quite making it.
But I’m proud of the newspaper career I pursued for more than 30 of those years, a career that brought me to OKC where I would meet the woman who became my wife, the kids we raised, yada, yada, yada.
Enough of that.
Just know that 1971 was a really, really cool year. I’m proud that it’s the year of my high school graduation.
My wife has always told me that every patient getting medical treatment needs an advocate to speak up on their behalf with health care professionals.
Paula has been a great advocate for me in the past when I had some major surgeries.
However, we discovered on Christmas night that the COVID pandemic has thrown up walls that prevent people from advocating for a loved one.
Let me start at the beginning.
About 7 p.m. Christmas night, Paula received a phone call from some close friends of her mother in western Oklahoma. Mother-in-law, as I will call her, was sitting down to eat Christmas dinner with her friends when she began having an apparent severe medical issue.
It might have been a heart issue or perhaps gall bladder or an infection of some sort. A nurse who was at the dinner checked her vital signs and was concerned.
Ultimately, an ambulance was called and mother-in-law as transported to a hospital in Weatherford.
After receiving the call, Paula immediately threw some clothes in a bag and drove to Weatherford. She knows that her mother often is anxious and confused during a medical crisis, and unlikely to share critical information about meds she is taking or where she has traveled recently.
So, Paula arrived at the hospital and immediately went to the emergency room waiting area ready to share what she considered important information. Her mother routinely takes several ongoing medications that might be an underlying cause to her distress.
The ER gatekeeper told her she could not go back to visit with health care staff because of COVID protocols. That was expected.
However, the anti-advocacy wall grew even higher and more unrelenting when Paula asked if a physician or nurse could come out to the lobby so she could share critical information.
The answer was ‘no,’ because they were all too busy.
“I said ‘I have information that you need that my mother is not going to tell you or give you,’ Paula told me as she recalled the confrontation. ‘The (gatekeeper) said ‘oh, the doctor’s real good at knowing patients are holding things back.’ “
Paula’s pleas to advocate for her mom fell on deaf ears. Eventually, she got in her car and drove back to Edmond.
Fast forward about five hours. Paula was back at the Weatherford ER to pick up her mother after the hospital called and informed her that her mom was being dismissed.
As Paula walked in to the ER, the gatekeeper saw that she brought clothes for her mom to change into.
“She said, ‘come on back’ and opened the door,” Paula said. “I just stopped and said ‘you’ve got to be kidding me. You wouldn’t let me come back here when she was admitted to give you information, yet you want me to go back there now? Am I all of a sudden not contagious?’ “
“We’re just following the COVID protocols.”
Paula translated the real meaning.
“The COVID protocol is ‘we don’t want you in the way when we have our patients back here, so we are using that to keep you out.’
“I didn’t have a problem in the world standing in the lobby and having a nurse come out and ask me ‘what do you want us to know that you think is important,’ and I would have been on my way and happy.”
Instead, a long night of frustration finally ended when Paula and her mom arrived at her family’s farm near Hammon about 4:15 am.
As Paula reviewed the information the hospital printed out when her mom was dismissed, she read the section that lists medications patient is taking.
It said ‘none.’
The wall had done its job filtering out critical information.
Editor’s note: Along with my colleagues from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST), I recently had the opportunity to meet Oklahoma City innovator Sharina Perry and hear the story of her remarkable journey as an inventor and entrepreneur. This is the story I wrote from that visit:
By Jim Stafford
Her audience sat spellbound for more than an hour recently as Sharina Perry shared her journey into entrepreneurship and her vision for her Oklahoma based companies all centered around developing and distributing her invention of Utopia Plastix.
Representatives from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance and the New Product Development Center at Oklahoma State University heard Perry’s tale about overcoming numerous obstacles to advance her invention.
Collectively, those organizations are part of what has become known as the Oklahoma Innovation Model (OIM), which supports innovation and technology advancements that help diversify Oklahoma’s economy.
Perry founded Utopia Genetics to distribute products made with Utopia Plastix, a trademarked product, as well as Utopia Solutions that makes Utopia Plastix.
Utopia Plastix was developed as patent-pending, plant-based alternatives for petroleum-based plastics such as plastic bags and single-use straws.
But Perry’s journey began with a different mission.
Masked for COVID protection, the OIM group listened to the presentation at Oklahoma City’s Poly Films, Inc., as Perry described how she began searching for plant materials that could help reduce incurable tumors that ravaged her nephew.
The prohibitive cost of clinical trials to gain Food and Drug Administration approval for any potential new drug delayed that quest.
However, it opened a door for Perry to take what she had learned into a different direction.
“In the process, I realized that God had a plan,” she told her audience. “I’m a person of faith, and Utopia is about my journey and using my gifts and the gifts of others.”
She pivoted into compounding plant-based products as an alternative for petroleum-based plastics after learning that Starbucks was offering $10 million for the first successful alternative to single-use plastic straws.
In some areas of the country, single-use plastic straws are now banned, as well as plastic bags that are popular with retailers.
Perry is not a chemist. Instead, she had a long career in satellite and cable industries before taking her first steps down this new path.
So, she dove into the research, working to create a strong paper straw made of Hemp. She provided the paper for the first Hemp straw created by Hoffmaster, Inc. Once produced, she learned that hemp would not be feasible for use as a straw that would be a food contact item and current cost of production would not be feasible.
Research led her to some important discoveries.
“I learned of other plants that had stronger fiber, a stronger core, had a greater yield per acre and actually performed better than hemp at a lower cost per seed,” she said. “And what we found out was that most companies had not heard anything about using plant material in their plastic applications.”
Perry is African American and female with no manufacturing background. Perhaps it’s no surprise that when she reached out to Oklahoma’s manufacturing community for assistance, there was lukewarm response.
“When I started on this journey, I thought having access to what I needed was going to be easy in Oklahoma,” she said. “It was not.”
So, she found a company in Texas that would compound her plant resin into pellets that could be used in the process.
Eventually, Perry perfected a process that resulted in usable plastic alternative straws, and contracted with a straw manufacturer, GCA Products, Inc., in Dallas.
“We’ve had a ton of people come in and say they have the next-best resin,” said Hunter Dunlap, vice president of Operations for GCA Products. “But Sharina is one of the only ones that stayed alive. Through Sharina’s dedication and partnership, we are actually producing straws as we speak for (food product distributor) Ben E. Keith.”
Perry also established a relationship with Poly Films., Inc., which has successfully used her plant-based material to produce what are known in the industry as blown plastic bags.
Kevin McGehee, vice president of Poly Films, guided the OIM group on a tour to watch the bags as they were produced, handing out finished product as souvenirs. Poly Films is a family-owned manufacturer that produces plastic bags and other products for a wide range of clients.
The bottom line, Perry said, is that she has created a business model that benefits farmers, processors, manufacturers and distributors. The crops she uses are high yield “rotational” crops often used to replenish the soil after wheat or corn has been grown on it.
“It’s just kind of a win-win-win all the way down,” GCA’s Hunter said. “We saw that early on, and decided to start the partnership with Sharina. It’s gone very well.”
Perry shared some potential uses that her plastic alternative could be used in addition to single-use straws and plastic bags. That includes plastic cutlery, building materials, roofing products, even diapers. And more.
“There are so many lanes our products can be used in,” she said. ““It’s bigger than me. I could have sold this a long time ago. I get offers all the time.”
Before the meeting ended, representatives from the Oklahoma Innovation Model eagerly discussed ways to connect Perry with more Oklahoma manufacturers and industries such as aerospace.
“This has been fantastic,” said Dan Luton, OCAST programs director. “Not only the technology and the product, but also your story and how it got here. There are people who could use your product now; they just don’t know you are here.”
Utopia Plastix did not win the $10 million Starbucks prize. It started too late, but Perry has journeyed far beyond that original incentive.
“We can now use agriculture to replace everyday items, and that creates a sustainable model for our community and our country,” Perry said. “There was already a demand and we want people to know that we are here to help satisfy it. We want Oklahoma to be positioned to do it, and to benefit disadvantaged and minority farmers, as well.”
That’s the win-win-win that Perry is seeking.
Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).
I was driving in eastern Oklahoma way back in the early 1990s when my wife had enough. “Turn off that static!” she demanded.
At the time, I was listening intently to a Texas Rangers baseball game on the AM radio broadcast of Fort Worth, Texas, station WBAP.
To be honest, I had not even noticed the static.
That was life in the olden days, when baseball fans like me would tune into distant AM radio stations like WBAP and KMOX in St. Louis to follow our favorite teams.
As a teenager, I lived on KMOX and the soothing voice of Jack Buck calling the Cardinals games. Later on, it was Mark Holtz and Eric Nadel with the Rangers.
Bonus: Read this terrific New York Times article on the power of KMOX as a reporter tries to outdrive the station’s coverage during a Cardinals’ game broadcast.
After dark, the distant signal from my favorite AM stations boomed across the AM receiver located either in my bedroom or my car.
But static was a price you paid to listen to distant AM radio broadcasts. In the spring and summer, static was almost always present because of thunderstorms somewhere between you and the radio tower.
So, you learned to pick out the play-by-play from the static. I sort of trained myself to tune out the static, which is why I faced the wrath of my wife.
It wasn’t only the distant sports stations that I tuned into as a teenager. WLS in Chicago was my go-to station to listen to the latest Top 40 hits.
Recently, someone posted a map on LinkedIn that showed the vast coverage of Oklahoma City’s KOMA. Unfortunately, I lived in the wrong part of the country as a kid to become a KOMA fan.
Anyway, the days of straining to hear baseball play-by-play or Top 40 music through a static-riddled broadcast are mostly in the past. I subscribe to MLB.com’s audio broadcasts now, which bring in the Rangers, Cardinals or any Major League team static free and crystal clear.
With bluetooth, I stream the broadcast to the car’s sound system and never miss a pitch.
And I no longer endure the wrath of someone who doesn’t understand the pleasure of ignoring the static to enjoy the game.