“Just an incredible trip,” Oklahoma City Thunder center Nick Collison said, and he was not talking about the team’s journey to the NBA Finals in June.
Rather, Collison was referring to a trip to Africa.
In three days, he said his view of the world changed. He saw Africans who walked 30 miles just to get two drops of polio vaccine, then turned around and walked home. He mingled among 100,000 people seeking refuge from wars and famine.
”To see things like that, it makes it real because you always hear about what’s going on in different places of the world. To see it firsthand, for me, made it real,” Collison said by phone to Yahoo Sports from South Africa, where he is participating in the 10th-annual Basketball Without Borders.
”It’s just an incredible trip.”
Before heading to Johannesburg, Collison stopped in Nairobi then headed out to the refugee camp with UNICEF.
”I’d say it’s probably a life-changing experience,” Collison said. “It’s something that will give me a different perspective on my life and just how I see the world,” Collison said.
”I think the goal of bringing the NBA as a partner of UNICEF is to get guys to talk about it and just kind of get the word out to a different audience, to let people know what groups are doing and people can get involved with what’s going on.”
Collison is part of a hefty Thunder presence in Africa this week. Four of the seven NBA players participating in Basketball Without Borders this year are from the Oklahoma City roster. Serge Ibaka, a native of the Republic of Congo, joins Collison, Thabo Sefolosha and Cole Aldrich as camp coaches.
Chicago’s Luol Deng, Milwaukee’s Luc Mbah a Moute and Brooklyn’s C.J. Watson are also participating in the basketball clinic for 60 African boys and girls, and helping life skills seminars and education on HIV and AIDS.
”We’re out here to not only change other people’s lives but also to change ours, to give us a different perspective on other how other people live,” Aldrich said. ”Serge grew up in a totally different lifestyle than any of us did, and we’re learning a little bit of that through this trip.
”It’s been so much fun, there’s a lot of things we’ve got to continue to do and we’re just trying to spread the word of basketball and just help people that need help.”
Said Collison: ”You kind of look eye-to-eye with people and you start to actually relate to them because they’re mothers, fathers and they’re trying to do what’s best for their children. They just have so many obstacles and difficulties.”