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Of Character: Lawson links Thunder players to community

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Ayana Lawson is the Thunder's director of player services. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman]

Ayana Lawson is the Thunder's director of player services. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman]

Ayana Lawson has shifted Christmas.

Most days, the Thunder's director of player services and appearances drives sons Peyton and Parker to school. She's involved in the PTA. But some days work pulls her away from family, and sometimes that calls for desperate measures.

So two years ago, when Lawson traveled to San Antonio for the Thunder's Christmas Day game, her sons — at home with her husband, Ed, who owns his own logistics company — were under the mistaken impression that the holiday fell on Dec. 26.

“I told them I was coming home on Christmas Eve,” Lawson said. “Now they're a little older, so they understand, but to them, Christmas is whatever day you open presents. And basketball never stops. When they say that in the commercial, they don't joke.”

Between parenting and a wide range of duties for the Thunder, life seems to rarely slow down for Lawson.

Her role with the team can be hard to define — “A lot of stuff she does, to me, I don't even think it's her job,” guard Russell Westbrook said — but it keeps Lawson busy.

She helps young players transition to the NBA and stay in compliance with league policies and programs. She helps newcomers adjust to Oklahoma City, assisting them in finding both a home and “their role in the community,” she said, helping to coordinate charitable efforts and appearances.

And she oversees the Home Court Support program, a group of Thunder wives that holds an annual fundraiser — auctioning players' game-worn shoes — to benefit women's and children's causes in Oklahoma City.

Past Home Court Support projects include donating shoes to elementary school students and holding a spa day for residents at a battered women's shelter.

“It's hard to explain (her role) in a great way,” Westbrook said. “She does so many great things that go unnoticed.”

But the results are visible in the community.

Lawson meets periodically with players to determine charitable causes that matter to them. Then she coordinates with the Thunder's community relations department to place players in appearances that match their interests.

In recent months, Lawson has worked with Thunder guard Anthony Morrow — whose fiance gave birth to twin boys prematurely in October — to find charities that speak to that issue.

So on World Premature Day in November, Lawson helped coordinate the couple's appearance at a children's hospital. Morrow has donated tickets to families who are dealing with similar issues, Lawson said.

That's all part of a job that Lawson said keeps her busy but feeling rewarded.

Lawson has spent her adult life in basketball. As a student at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, she landed an internship with the Grizzlies when the franchise relocated from Vancouver.

She parlayed a role breaking down college scouting tapes into a job as video coordinator for the WNBA's Seattle Storm, and ultimately moved into player development with the Seattle Sonics, relocating to Oklahoma City when the franchise did.

Along the way, the native Alabaman and lifelong Tennessee Volunteers fan married a Georgia Bulldog and convinced him to name their sons, now 6 and 5 years old, after former Vols quarterback Peyton Manning and women's basketball star Candace Parker.

As a high school basketball player, Lawson — who started playing the game as an eighth grader because her strict military parents wouldn't otherwise let her attend games to hang out with her friends — was taught by a coach a pecking order of priorities she maintains today.

“‘God first, family second, school third, basketball fourth,'” she said. “I kind of rolled that into my adult life: God first, family second, basketball third.”

Community service is part of that basketball priority. It's part of what brings balance to Lawson's full professional plate.

“When you go to an elementary school two years in a row to give kids tennis shoes and you see them wearing the shoes you gave them the year before?” Lawson said. “That's when you say, ‘OK, this is why we do it.'”

Related Photos
<p>Ayana Lawson is the Thunder's director of player services. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman]</p>

Ayana Lawson is the Thunder's director of player services. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-cf098a0c28c246b0fc64761e8eefa307.jpg" alt="Photo - Ayana Lawson is the Thunder's director of player services. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman] " title=" Ayana Lawson is the Thunder's director of player services. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Ayana Lawson is the Thunder's director of player services. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c24893f91d3a29498948d11de2e3a315.jpg" alt="Photo - Ayana Lawson is the Thunder's director of player services. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman] " title=" Ayana Lawson is the Thunder's director of player services. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Ayana Lawson is the Thunder's director of player services. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c29ca7647eccd42b7258442ee614f42a.jpg" alt="Photo - Ayana Lawson is the Thunder's director of player services. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman] " title=" Ayana Lawson is the Thunder's director of player services. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Ayana Lawson is the Thunder's director of player services. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Brett Dawson

Brett Dawson is in his second year covering the Thunder at The Oklahoman. He joined the paper in September of 2016 after a year covering the Pelicans at The Advocate in New Orleans. Prior to covering the NBA, Dawson spent his career covering... Read more ›

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