DALLAS – The Oklahoma City Thunder will play the Dallas Mavericks tonight at 7 at American Airlines Center.
The national anthem will be sung before tonight's game, as it always is. But a prayer will not be given.
At least that’s not the case at the AAC. Or at any other NBA arena.
Except at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma, where the Thunder always have someone say a prayer in front of the crowd before their home games.
So why are the Thunder choosing to be the lone NBA team to offer a prayer before home games?
“We think our fans’ faith is important to them, so we think it’s appropriate,’’ said Dan Mahoney, the vice-president of corporate communications and community relations for the Thunder. “But we also take steps to make sure that the invocation time is appropriate for people of all faiths, and we think we’ve accomplished that.
“We try to keep it to where it will be applicable to all faiths, and we see very positive response to it. We’ve done it from day one, so it’s just become something that they’re used to it.’’
Mavs owner Mark Cuban said he will not have a prayer before his team’s games at the AAC. And he has his reasons.
“I just think in the chance it makes anybody uncomfortable that’s a good enough reason not to do it,’’ Cuban said. “You don’t bring religion, you don’t bring politics, you don’t bring sexuality to a basketball game because no one’s there for any of those three events.’’
Mahoney certainly understands the decision of Cuban and other team owners not to mix religion with sports.
“What other teams choose to do, that’s their business, that’s not ours,’’ Mahoney said. “Our goal is to make it a comfortable, friendly environment for our fans, our players, and we think we see very positive response to it.
“But again, we do recognize that we have people of various faiths who are in the building, we have people who may think it’s not appropriate and we respect that. Really, it’s a moment of kind of silent reflection. If you choose not to participate in a prayer, there are things you can do to suddenly reflect, or they don’t have to be in their seats, too.’’
If not a prayer, teams do frequently have a moment of silence before games when a tragic event occurs somewhere across the world. Or when some iconic person passes away.
But a traditional prayer like what occurs at Chesapeake Energy Arena apparently is out of the question.
“I just think it’s a big mistake to even bring it,’’ Cuban said. “But it’s up to whatever any individual team wants to do.’’
Mahoney said when the New Orleans Hornets played the majority of their home games in Oklahoma City from 2005-’07 because of Hurricane Katrina, someone gave a prayer before those hone games. And when the Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, those prayers continued because Mahoney said that’s what Thunder owner Clay Bennett wanted.
“We’ve had Rabbis do it, we’ve had Native American spiritual leaders do it, we’ve used it as a moment of reflection for things like the Boston Marathon bombings, the passing of (Lakers owner) Dr. (Jerry) Buss in Los Angeles,’’ Mahoney said. “We used our game as an opportunity for our fans to pay respects to him and the Lakers, so it’s all for just a moment of silent reflection.
“But because of the demographics of Oklahoma, traditionally it is a Christian denomination, but it’s not solely Christian. We try to keep it as non-denomination as we’re able to, considering the pool of preachers and others that we have availability to have in here.’’
Mahoney realizes all 30 NBA teams may not be on the same page with it comes to running their organization. Saying a prayer before games also falls under that umbrella.
“I think it’s just a decision that’s left up to each team and each franchise as to what their fans want and what they think is appropriate for their community,’’ Mahoney said. “We respect any team that chooses not to do it.
“That’s their own personal decision as a franchise and as a business. But for us and our community, it’s the right thing.’’
-- Dwain Price
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