Sefolosha helps unfancied Oklahoma City Thunder beat glamour teams to reach the playoffs, writes Luke Alfred
OKLAHOMA City, of all places, provides the setting for a quirky contemporary South African sport yarn.
The city's basketball side - Oklahoma City Thunder - is home to Thabo Sefolosha, whose assertive style helped them win the Western Conference playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday and put them on the cusp of a brilliant season.
They will play either the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat, winner of the NBA's Eastern Conference, in this week's NBA finals, hoping as they do so for a place in history.
"Sefolosha swiped the ball twice from Tim Duncan, then picked Tony Parker and Boris Diaw clean - four steals in three minutes that quickly established a felonious and physical tone in Thunder's 102-82 dismantling of the Spurs," wrote the New York Times' Tom Spousta of an early game in the six-game sequence.
The Thunder subsequently extended the "felonious tone", turning around a 2-0 deficit against the Spurs to win four on the reel to win the Conference - only the third team in NBA history to reverse a 2-0 deficit and win four in a row.
If Sefolosha looks like a vaguely familiar surname to SA readers, it should. His mother, Christine, moved to South Africa at the height of apartheid aged 20, but divorced her first husband before falling in love with a musician.
His name was Patrick Sefolosha and he played in a distinctive African music and reggae outfit called the Malopoets, a band formed by the legendary Sam Tshabalala. The Malopoets were one of the first bands to play a residency at the Market Theatre and inspired a loyal local following before touring Europe in the early 1980s. The pathway to Europe allowed Christine and Patrick to turn their backs on an increasing heavy and racially divided South Africa.
Thabo was born in Switzerland, and although football was his first love, a neighbour in Montreux introduced him and his brother, Kgomotso, to basketball. Thabo was nine.
"My mom and dad, being unconventional in what they do, always tell me to do what I love," Sefolosha told the New York Times. "For me that was basketball - it was something different for them. But that's what I believed in."
Sefolosha played for the Swiss under-20 side and mucked around the European leagues as a laaitie, moving to the NBA in 2006. His apprenticeship in Switzerland, Italy and France served him well, although the early years suggest a fractious relationship with authority.
Still, he provided an impressive package. He was lanky, quick and had fast hands. There was also a liberal sprinkling of stardust. "I've always been creative and been a player that likes to do different things and not follow the rules that everybody else does," he told Spousta. "I got that from my background and parents."
Sefolosha's headstrong ways and sense of independence are clearly valued at Oklahoma. In the coming days they might become even more important to the team.