Her face reddened when two unexpected visitors with big smiles and greetings joined her at the arts and crafts table in the playroom.
Working on an art project, 15-year-old patient Nyah Brown was coating blue paint on a picture frame when Thunder teammates Dakari Johnson and Daniel Hamilton squeezed their respective 7-foot and 6-foot-7 frames beside her and reached for their own brushes.
Johnson and Hamilton spent Tuesday afternoon delivering smiles and laughs in a surprise visit at INTEGRIS Children’s at Baptist Medical Center.
“This was awesome. I wasn’t expecting this,” said Brown. “I’m mad blushing right now. It made my day.”
The towering duo got the opportunity to flex their creative skills while getting to know young patients like Brown. For Johnson, he was in his element.
“I actually paint on my off time on Friday and Saturday nights,” said Johnson. “So I get to put my talents to the test.”
During the painting session, the teenager bonded with her new oversized acquaintances over the recent Planet of the Apes movie in which Brown confessed, “It made me cry” as they deep dived into the film’s plot points and characters.
“Being able to interact with them is joyful,” said Hamilton. “Kids definitely brought me joy with their spirits.”
Soon enough, Johnson and Hamilton’s competitive spirit surfaced through their coloring projects as both were trying to top one another proudly showing off their masterpieces drawing laughs all around from the children, family members and staff.
Being teammates with the Blue and now the Thunder, Johnson and Hamilton have developed a brotherly relationship over the years where stinging barbs became currency. Their side-splitting banter carried over through the halls as the afternoon was replete with contagious laughter.
Whether it was making silly faces or doling out Thunder wristbands, the teammates sparkled with good-natured repartee all afternoon as they dropped in room after room on their mission to make each patient smile.
“They give us energy by being happy to see us and that excites us,” said Hamilton. “It’s bigger than basketball and coming here you can see that.”
For Ashley Ochs, Lead Certified Child Life Specialist, the surprise visit served as a way to leaven the mood to an otherwise mundane hospital stay experienced by many of the patients prone long-term.
“I think when they walked into rooms that maybe the kids didn’t have smiles on their faces,” said Ochs. “With the players walking in and having fun, it lit up the room and everybody that was in the room.”
Racking up selfies and group photos, Johnson and Hamilton treasured the experience to connect with Thunder fans in person while creating memories.
“They’ll go back to their school and say they met us. They can go back and show the pictures we took and be happy and be joyful.,” said Hamilton. “It’s definitely a humbling experience.”
Johnson: “The fact they get to see and do activities with us first hand, I think that’s something they can hold on for the rest of their lives.”