The Oklahoma City Thunder’s City Edition uniforms this year have a unique, more profound meaning – and a partnership at its heart.
The uniforms are paying homage to the 25th anniversary of the April 19, 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Debuting on January 9 against the Houston Rockets, the uniforms are more than a material nod to the tragic event, as the Thunder have developed a partnership with the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.
“The way we’ve seen the connection is a measure of respect for what came before us, the bombing happened in 1995 and the tremendous amount of response that defined Oklahoma City,” said Brian Byrnes, Thunder senior vice president of sales and marketing. “The modern downtown infrastructure, the economy that had to rebuild itself all comes out of the mid-90s. We’re not here – the Thunder doesn’t have this opportunity – if not for what transpired the  years before we arrived.
“The Thunder, by virtue of the NBA’s global exposure, have a great responsibility to help elevate that story,” he said.
Aside from the uniform, the Thunder will underwrite admission – $15 per visitor – to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum for all visitors on the 25th day of every month in 2020. Byrnes said as part of orientation, each member of the Thunder organization, from the front office to players, tour the museum to understand the ethos and history of the city.
The tour practice came out during discussions with Nike’s design team four years ago when the initial brand identifies for the City Editions were beginning to take form.
“As we shared with Nike, among the many things they wanted to deliver was a uniform connected to the memorial; it was something they saw a great opportunity in designing,” Byrnes said.
The 25th anniversary is a significant moment for the museum, which, despite its national memorial status, is not federally funded. The museum’s executive director, Kari Watkins, said the Thunders’ support is crucial to bringing awareness to the event as the city looks back on its history and forward to a healthy future.
“Our goal is to use the power of the Thunder’s marketing to drive attendance, and bring people in and experience it,” said Watkins, adding the 12 subsidized days will help eliminate any barriers to entry. “It’s an enormous gift for us. While this was and remains the nation’s largest domestic terrorist attack, it could be easy to move on; our goal is to educate.”
Watkins said the memorial’s goal is to educate those ages 8 to 80, and she’s been pleasantly surprised by the way even older adults are moved by the Thunder City Edition uniforms.
As people move to Oklahoma City – the city’s population grew 14% between 2010 and 2018 – and generations too young to remember the bombing, she’s happy to have new ways to share the story, whether it’s a fan watching a game on national TV or playing NBA 2K.
The Thunder City Edition uniforms will be worn at least nine more times this season, and like other team City Editions, the Thunder will mostly wear the uniforms at home. The team, however, will take it on the road twice in March to New York and Washington. Those two games will not only give the Thunder a broader market to share the story of the uniforms with, but also a way to further connect with two markets that were crucial to the recovery efforts after the bombing and also suffered their own tragic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
In both New York City and Washington, D.C., events will be held to host families and first responders to recognize their contributions to the Oklahoma City community.
“We hope we can strengthen those relationships but tell the story on a national level,” Watkins said.
The story of the Oklahoma City bombing and the reinvigorated community it has since inspired is the story the Thunder hope to tell with the jersey and its partnership with the memorial and museum.
While the City Edition uniforms from all teams have deep connections to the communities around them, the Thunder hopes this one tugs a little bit deeper. The Thunder have also dedicated a corner of Chesapeake Energy Arena, with two video monitors related to the memorial and a permanent display of the 168 names that died that day in 1995.
“We look at the uniform as an opportunity to express the values of our team,” Byrnes said. “In some cases, these uniforms mean retail sales or link to other key business objectives, and that’s not lost on us. We’ve taken a different approach with our three iterations, to reflect back to the marketplace and our purpose of being in Oklahoma City.”
“We are mindful we represent more than just ourselves. We’re a confidence booster, an economic driver, and an influencer in a market that’s in a high-growth stage,” he added. “Aligning that helps deliver the 25th-anniversary platform what the memorial told us once was a key business objective: How can they tell their story to a new generation?”