Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Rev. James L. Dunbar, senior pastor of Greater Cleaves Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, delivers a pregame invocation ahead of the Utah Jazz versus Oklahoma City Thunder playoff game on Wednesday, April 18, 2018, at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. No other NBA team conducts a pregame invocation.
For our fans it’s an opportunity to pray if they want to, to have a moment of silent reflection if they want to or it’s really for them to use that time however they want to. —Dan Mahoney, OKC’s vice president of Broadcasting & Corporate Communications

OKLAHOMA CITY — As the lights dimmed in Chesapeake Energy Arena, all eyes were glued to midcourt.

Before the national anthem or any player introductions, a famous ritual had to take place ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Game 2 playoff matchup versus the Utah Jazz on April 18.

The Rev. James L. Dunbar, senior pastor of Greater Cleaves Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, delivered a pregame invocation.

“Our God, we ask that you would protect the players, the coaches, the officials, these great fans and the employees,” he prayed. “Thank you for everything that you provide. In your name we pray, Amen.”

“Amen,” more than 18,000 fans responded in unison.

Even by NBA standards, this ritual is unique.

No other team in the league practices this gesture — not even in Salt Lake City where the Mormon culture is prevalent.

As the Utah Jazz look to close out the Thunder in Game 5 (7:30 p.m. MDT) of their first-round postseason series this week, coach Quin Snyder respects the OKC tradition.

“I think every franchise has things that are unique to them,” Snyder said. “I have respect for everything that everybody is doing around the league.”

The pregame invocation was first implemented during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons when the New Orleans Hornets temporarily relocated to OKC after Hurricane Katrina devastated the town.

The Seattle SuperSonics then announced that the franchise would move to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder — in reference to the region's severe weather. So ever since the inaugural OKC Thunder season in 2008-09, the pregame invocation has been in place, and it isn’t to be confused with just a prayer.

“It’s an invocation. We reach non-denominational,” said Dan Mahoney, OKC’s vice president of Broadcasting & Corporate Communications. “For our fans it’s an opportunity to pray if they want to, to have a moment of silent reflection if they want to or it’s really for them to use that time however they want to.”

OKC’s pregame lineup is as diverse as a Drake concert, too.

Numerous leaders such as Catholic archbishops, Baptist preachers and Jewish rabbis have been called on to deliver the service.

“We feel it’s a reflection of our community,” Mahoney said. “Our fans have been very receptive to it. We allow that time, and it’s just something that we’ve done since day one and our fans are very fond of it. We appreciate that opportunity.”