Thunder GM Sam Presti comments on new potential arena and concerns of it being publicly funded

·5 min read

The talk of the summer for the Oklahoma City Thunder centered around a potential new arena down the road.

During his State of the City address, OKC Mayor David Holt brought up a new arena being necessary in order to secure the long-term future of the franchise.

This was the first time a new arena was publicly brought up by either the city or franchise. Holt said that he did this to give the city a heads up of what the future will likely hold.

The Thunder have played in Paycom Center since they moved in 2008 and the arena itself was opened in 2002. With the arena being a little over 20 years old, Holt said it has reached its ceiling in terms of modifications and upgrades and that it’s time to start talking about a new arena.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti spoke about a potential new arena for the first time in his preseason media availability and said that the franchise holds a very endearing relationship with the city.

“What I can say about that is the first thing that needs to be said is the relationship between the civic leadership here and the organization is uncommon. It’s a very — it’s all part of what makes the basketball in Oklahoma City so unique. I’ve tried to explain that to people in the league and with the other teams and stuff like that. It really is unique. It’s a unique place.

“Now, part of it is because of how we started 15 years ago when we arrived. That starting point, like from scratch, from nothing, from no logo — this was nonexistent — you build relationships, and I think that you also recognize that the mutual value of those relationships. So that’s the greatest thing when I hear Mayor Holt speak.

“And those relationships will be important as time goes on, but I’m really confident that they’ll be a great partnership as there has been since the day we arrived. I like to think part of that is also because we’ve tried to be a great partner with the community.

“I said at the end of my last press conference — I don’t want to say the end, but somewhere in there — we were pretty limited in what we could do in the community with COVID, and I kind of made a statement like we’ll be back out there, and we have been. This past summer, we’ve been out there quite a bit, and it’s been awesome.

“I know that stuff doesn’t get covered as much anymore because it happens a lot, and I think that’s a good thing because it’s normative. But we’re in the community almost every day doing something. We got something going — I think we’re unveiling another Thunder Court near Scissortail Park. We’ve got the book bus recently. Someone sent me pictures of Jalen, J. Will at a Loves with their granddaughter. That’s just very unique here, you know what I mean.

“That gives me the opportunity to say to J. Will, hey, when we talk about being a Thunder player, this is part of that. Now, a lot of guys that have been here for the last two years haven’t had the full 360 experience of what being a Thunder player is because they haven’t had the opportunity to be out in the community.

“I think that’s part of the reciprocity of a relationship. We’ve always taken it seriously. We want to be representative, and there’s a mutual aspiration for what the city can potentially be.

“When we arrived here, we had this thematic thing that said rise together. Most of you remember that. Some of you may be too young. But rise together with the city and the team was aspirational to get to the point where we have some of these things.

“The thing I love about Mayor Holt is he’s maintained that aspiration to strive for having first class things in Oklahoma City. I think that’s great.”

Presti was also asked about the concerns of some members in the Oklahoma City community of a new arena being publicly funded despite the franchise being worth $1.6 billion. Presti took the diplomatic approach of answering the question by essentially saying all sides should be listened to so that there can be a compromised solution.

“I think everybody has a right to an opinion. That’s what makes the country and community we have great. I think those concerns should be heard, and I think the people that feel otherwise should be heard as well. Hopefully through that process, there can be an honest exchange of ideas without there being a polarized point of view of right and wrong or your tribe and my tribe or everything’s wrong in the world.

“Like the only way to get to that is thoughtful discourse, respectful discourse, but I definitely think that your points are all taken and people should be heard. I think vice versa, to be heard, you also have to be willing to let other people be heard as well. Hopefully we can come to a place where everybody feels like they’ve been heard.”

The answers to these questions likely won’t be find out for a long time — perhaps for even several years — as the process of planning and building a new arena is a multi-year commitment. But with Presti being the face of the Thunder, it was important to hear his comments on the possibility of a new arena.

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Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire