OKC Thunder: Why Sam Presti joined team in NBA bubble
Sam Presti can’t leave his hotel room without seeing a familiar face.
The Thunder general manager passed Russell Westbrook on Wednesday morning as Presti was returning from a workout. He’s reminisced with former Thunder forward Jeff Green, he’s caught up with his old San Antonio pals and he’s spent time with executives from opposing teams.
“I see Mike D’Antoni about 70 times a day,” Presti said of the Rockets coach.
There’s an asphalt path outside Disney World’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa where the Thunder and Rockets are staying. Every morning, D’Antoni walks it and Presti jogs.
Presti said it’s like the scene in National Lampoon’s European Vacation when Clark Griswold can’t escape a roundabout. “Look, kids. Big Ben, Parliament,” Griswold repeats as they keep circling.
“That’s how I feel with Mike,” Presti said. “At what point do you stop waving and saying hi? It’s like the 10th time I’ve seen him in the last four minutes.”
For all the jokes that have already been made, the Disney bubble really is a small world. And Presti decided it was best to enter it, filling one of 37 spots in the Thunder’s travel party to Orlando. The Thunder brought 16 players and seven coaches on the trip.
One of the 14 remaining places had to be filled with an executive, and several GMs joined their teams like Presti.
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“I just felt like it was important to be with the group,” said Presti, who’s away from his wife and three kids. “I don’t want to make it seem like we’re making some type of tremendous sacrifice by being down here, but being away from people’s families for an elongated period of time is a sacrifice … I’m happy to do that with the people that are here because I think that’s part of the deal.”
The Thunder arrived at Disney World two weeks ago. After a 36-hour quarantine to begin their stay, the Thunder has practiced every day but one since July 10. Practice times, which are set by the NBA, range from early in the morning to late in the evening.
Routines are difficult to establish, but the constants in Presti’s days are reading, journaling and exercising.
A stack of books on Presti’s hotel room desk was visible on a Wednesday morning teleconference.
“Master of the Senate,” Robert Caro’s three-volume series about Lyndon B. Johnson, is the latest read Presti is diving into.
“It’s one of those books where my wrists get tired before my eyes,” Presti said.
While Presti and the team are in Orlando, the majority of the Thunder’s staff is working remotely. Presti said Thunder vice presidents Rob Hennigan, Will Dawkins and Amanda Green are leading the effort from Oklahoma City.
Presti said the organization has reevaluated things during the pandemic, like how it can be more efficient economically and environmentally.
“We have to be willing to take that with us,” Presti said, “because I don’t know that we’re gonna go back, any of us, to the way things were done previously.”
That departure from normalcy is likely to extend into next season, but there are still games to be completed this season. No players have tested positive for COVID-19 since entering the bubble, and scrimmages have started.
The Thunder will scrimmage the Celtics on Friday, and OKC will resume the regular season Aug. 1 against the Jazz.
“The general advantages that certain teams might have, those things are limited here,” Presti said. “Everyone’s got the same amount of people here, everybody’s got the same conditions, everyone’s eating the same food, sleeping in the same type of hotels. I think it’s great.”
Presti FaceTimes with his family five times per day, but he anticipates a strong bond will form among the players, coaches and staff inside the bubble.
“We’re gonna learn things about each other,” Presti said, “and we’re gonna see sides of each other that I think are extraordinarily human.”