Why OKC Thunder presented NBA draft picks at Clara Luper Center

Marilyn Luper Hildreth stood passionately in front of her mother’s photo.

The image – a small part of a compilation of quotes, photos and dates spanning two walls – resides inside the Clara Luper Center for Educational Services, named after Hildreth’s mother who was a local teacher of OKC and a pioneer of the American civil rights movement.

Tucked away in a nook of the building, used by Oklahoma City Public Schools for administrative work, is documentation of Luper’s life, covering his civil rights and educational work.

After being officially introduced to the media and family members in an adjacent room, a brief visit was given to the final four Oklahoma City Thunder draft selections – Chet Holmgren, Ousmane Dieng, Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams. Hildreth, who guided the tour, spoke intensely about her mother’s fight for equal rights in the 1960s and shared memories of what she remembers during that time.

“It’s important that we tell our story,” said Hildreth, wearing a personalized Thunder jersey bearing her last name.

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It gave Thunder’s rookie quartet some insight into that history. Players listened carefully to the presentation, asked questions, and even shared a few laughs with Hildreth, who is a quick-witted tour guide.

“I want them to understand where we’re coming from,” Hildreth said. “Not just with the Thunder, but everything in our community. I think we would have a better community if everyone knew more about each other and the roles they played in making this state great.

The use of the building for the introductory press conference was a selection made by Thunder general manager Sam Presti. Presti and Hildreth have been friends for years, serving together on several different city committees.

Hildreth doesn’t remember exactly when she first met Presti, but remembers him vividly when the thunder honored Luper before he died.

“It seems like I’ve known him for 100 years,” Hildreth said.

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Oklahoma City Thunder draft picks Jaylin Williams, left, Jalen Williams, Ousmane Dieng and Chet Holmgren with Thunder general manager Sam Presti speak to the media during a press conference in Oklahoma City, Saturday, June 25 2022.

Presti said: “She is a good friend of mine and a good friend of the organization. I love spending time with her and learning from her. He’s just a person with a lot of spirit, and his family is of crucial importance for the development of our city.

Presti selects different venues for press conferences throughout the city, often looking for buildings with community ties. After Presti attended the unveiling of the Clara Luper Center in November, he chose to use it.

The Thunder also recognized several area school administrators and faculty members before introducing the new players.

“They’ve been nice to us,” Hildreth said, referring to the Thunder’s commitment to the city and the Luper family.

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