Thunder to debut new uniforms honoring bombing victims
Ryan Whicher is ecstatic the Thunder-Rockets game will be nationally televised Thursday night.
It's not because he lives in Maryland and none of Oklahoma City's other games this season have been broadcast beyond the local telecasts. It's not even because Russell Westbrook will make his return to OKC.
Whicher is pumped because millions of people will get to see the Thunder's uniforms.
On Thursday, OKC will debut its new "City" uniforms, designed to pay homage to those affected by the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. A striking combination of charcoal and bronze, numerous details will be familiar to Oklahomans. The Survivor Tree on the waistbands. The Gates of Time on the side panels.
But for people outside of the state, the symbolism may be foreign.
And for some, the bombing itself may be unknown.
That's why Whicher is so grateful the Thunder and the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum collaborated on these uniforms, why he is so glad viewers across the country and even around the world will have a chance to see them. They will help keep alive the memory of what happened.
"Tragedies like this, I always worry that everyone else is going to forget about it and the victims will kind of be on their own at some point," Whicher said. "That's a fear in the back of everyone's head, I'm sure.
"And this is absolute 100% proof that's not the case."
Those killed, those injured and those affected haven't been forgotten.
That includes Ryan Whicher's dad.
Alan Whicher became the assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service field office in Oklahoma City back in August 1994. He decided to take the desk position after serving on President Bill Clinton's security detail, moving to Oklahoma from Washington, D.C., hoping for a slower, simpler life.
Whicher didn't want to miss any more birthdays or holidays with his family. He wanted to spend more time with his wife, Pam, and children Meredith, Melinda and Ryan.
No one welcomed that more than Ryan, who was in middle school at the time.
"He was like the Terminator in real life," Ryan said. "He was this massive figure who was a law enforcement guy. To me, he was just this awesome human."
Alan Whicher was in his new office on the ninth floor of the Murrah Building when that truck bomb exploded.
Two days later came the official notification of his death.
Ryan was only 12, but he had grown accustomed to his dad traveling for work. All of his dad's years in the Secret Service meant when the president or vice president went somewhere, Alan Whicher went, too.
"It just felt like he was on a long trip," Ryan said of those days after the bombing, "and we were just waiting for him to get home."
But when Ryan saw adults in tears, including men who were big and strong and brave like his dad, Ryan started to understand the gravity of the situation. His dad wasn't on a long trip. He wouldn't be coming home.
Whicher's mom moved the family back to the Washington, D.C., area soon after the bombing.
Ryan, along with his wife and two children, still live in Maryland.
Because the entire Whicher family has lived outside Oklahoma much of the past 25 years, they aren't constantly exposed to reminders about the bombing. There are no field trips to the museum. No weekend strolls around the memorial. No special visits to the field of chairs.
Ryan Whicher doesn't need those cues.
"It's been almost 25 years, and not a day goes by where I don't reflect on it in some way, shape or form," he said.
But he knows most people living outside Oklahoma aren't as aware of what happened that April day — or how so many responded in the wake of the tragedy.
There was care and love, support and hope.
"The actual act itself?" Ryan Whicher said. "That's pain. You can go find a million things daily that will give you that pain.
"I want people to know the hope."
He believes the Thunder's uniforms will help spread that message.
"Think of some kid in France watching the basketball game," Ryan Whicher said. "He probably doesn't know this story. Maybe he does, but now he definitely will."
Those are the kinds of people Kari Watkins was hoping to reach when the Thunder first approached the memorial about a special-edition uniform. As the executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, she embraced the idea of not only honoring those killed, injured and changed by the bombing but also spreading the "Oklahoma Standard" of service, honor and kindness to a new audience.
"We have our work cut out for us as far as really needing to make sure this story is told," Watkins said. "A lot of people here know it. Some people don't know it. But I feel like when those players put on that jersey, people will begin to ask questions."
She heard some of them the other day when she went to Dick's Sporting Goods to buy a "City" edition warmup. It features the service, honor and kindness motto, and when a young sales associate saw it, he asked Watkins what it meant.
Getting to share that message near and far is powerful.
"You can't imagine the tentacles this will have," Watkins said.
Ryan Whicher has imagined it — and it creates a physical reaction.
"I just get a little chill thinking about it," he said. "It's literally worldwide. Basketball is everywhere."
He can't wait for the story of the bombing to reach new hearts and minds during Thursday night's game and every other game the Thunder wears its "City" edition uniform this season. The history will spread. The education will grow. And he hopes the takeaway is how people responded to evil and fear.
"A tragedy like this never goes away," he said. "It's just how you decide to approach it, where your mindset is with it, whether or not you make positives out of it or negatives out of it."
Ryan Whicher hates all that was lost in the bombing — he wishes every day he could call his dad and ask advice about raising his own kids — but he loves what grew out of it.
There was care. There was compassion.
Most of all, there was love.