New Zealand Kiwis basketball fans visit Oklahoma City

By Molly M. Fleming - Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — Bevan Young has been a fan of the U.S. National Basketball Association for at least 30 years.

He became an even bigger fan when a man from his home country made history in 2013 and signed with an NBA team.

Young is from New Zealand. He was recently in Oklahoma City to see Steven Adams play two games.

“We’re lucky to have an NBA player now,” he said.

Young came to Oklahoma City with Joelle Talbot. She’s the director of New Zealand-based Global Sports and Events. The company organizes international trips for New Zealand-based sports fans. She said with the internet and social media, U.S. sports are getting a lot of interest.

Other similar trips are a week in Los Angeles, where the Kiwis see the Lakers, the Clippers, the Dodgers and the Kings. She’s also organized groups to see car racing in Singapore, among other destinations, The Journal Record reported.

She came to Oklahoma City in August to start organizing this trip. She brought 25 people with her, with the youngest being 19 years old.

“Steven is getting bigger and bigger in New Zealand,” she said. “When you walk around in New Zealand, everyone is wearing Thunder stuff. He’s become more and more prominent, growing into a personality.”

This is the first trip she’s organized to Oklahoma City, but she doesn’t expect it will be the last. In October, Adams signed onto another four years with the Thunder.

“We hope our relationship with the team and the city continues to grow so we can bring more people,” she said.

Talbot worked with the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau on planning the event.

Marketing and Communications Director Seth Spillman said the bureau has seen more interest in the city from New Zealand journalists.

He said he expects Adams’ presence has made more Kiwis aware of the city.

“We wouldn’t be top of the mind as a visitor destination if there wasn’t a direct connection,” he said.

Traveler Sharyn Pask said she didn’t get an excited reaction when she told her friends she was going to Oklahoma City. She’s been a longtime supporter of the New Zealand Breakers, a pro team that plays in the National Basketball League.

“No one goes to Oklahoma,” she said. “We usually go to the coasts. It’s never a place you’d expect to go.”

But when she tells her friends she’s going to see Adams, they are more understanding.

“The Kiwis are very proud,” she said. “We’re a little nation. He’s come from humble beginnings. You have no idea what he means to us.”

By Molly M. Fleming

Associated Press

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