Friday, December 20, 2013

gUrl Talk with the Sefoloshas

Earlier this week, we, the Thunder gUrls, had lunch at Saturn Grill with OKC Thunder player Thabo Sefolosha and his wife Bertille. Conversation and laughter came easy for them as they shared stories about their marriage, family, and life in the NBA. They fell in love a decade ago, but Thabo and Bertille flirted and bantered as if it were only yesterday.

Photo: Sefolosha Family Collection
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Their story is a fairytale. (And we can’t get enough of those, can we gUrls??)

His father, originally from South Africa, fell in love with his mother from Switzerland, where Thabo was born. By age 19, he was playing basketball in France.

Bertille was born in Cameroon and raised in France. One day, she and her mother went with her sister to her sister’s apartment. As they were waiting for Bertille’s sister to key into her apartment, a (sweaty) tall handsome man passed by as he hauled the last bit of his furniture out of his apartment (hint – it’s Thabo). He greeted the ladies.

And, as any good mother would do, Bertille’s mom took the opportunity to strike up a conversation with this eligible bachelor, who was conveniently about the age of her daughters.

Bertille: It was so embarrassing.  She said ‘you’re very tall, do you play basketball? My son plays basketball and my other daughter plays basketball…..’ She was talking all about her life and I was like ‘Mom, leave him alone!' He was so nice and so polite… The way he was answering my mom… in the back of my mind, I was thinking ‘He’s so cute!’
Thabo: I noticed her from the corner of my eye.

At that time, Thabo wore his hair in braids. Later, he saw Bertille’s sister and asked if she braided hair. She said that she didn’t but her sister did. His mind started turning. He asked,
“How many sisters do you have? Is it the one that was with you the other day?” She replied that it was, and Thabo called Bertille and she came over to braid his hair.

Thabo: She fell in love.
Bertille: Oh, just I fell in love?! (laughing) We talked for two hours as I braided his hair.

Their first kiss was soon after.

Thabo walked Bertille home from a date. They talked for a while at her apartment and when it was time for him to go, she walked him to the door and tried to send all the “It’s ok to kiss me” vibes she could. But all Thabo could muster was a kiss on the cheek before he walked away. Disappointed, Bertille got into her frumpy pajamas and headed to bed until there was suddenly a knock at the door.

Thabo had returned. (!!!)

Bertille: He said “Oh, it’s raining outside. Can I wait here until the rain stops?” and he lived literally like two feet away from the building.
Thabo: Not quite that close! (he grins)

Thankfully the rain continued long enough for Thabo to gather his courage, because the second time he left, he kissed her.

Thabo and Bertille Sefolosha. (Photo: Sefolosha Family Collection)

Fast forward through a proposal in a vineyard on a Swiss mountain, a magical wedding in a Swiss castle, the birth of two beautiful daughters- and this easily becomes the story line of the next Disney blockbuster or Taylor Swift song. And looks exactly like our wedding Pinterest boards.


Photos: Sefolosha Family Collection
But wait!

There’s a subplot to this fairytale.

Thabo played basketball and, like most young boys, dreamed of playing in the NBA. However, this childhood dream seemed particularly impossible because Thabo was from Switzerland. At the time, no Swiss basketball player had ever been good enough to be drafted in the NBA. But that didn’t stop him from dreaming.

In 2006, most of Thabo’s dream came true.

Thabo was drafted by the Chicago Bulls- the first player from Switzerland ever to do so. 

Photo: NBA.com
Thabo and Bertille packed up and moved to the United States. Their English was rough, and the neighbors kept to themselves. It was difficult figuring out how to adjust to their new home. But Thabo bonded with teammates Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, and considers them close friends, to this day.

After three seasons in Chicago, Thabo was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2009, which had just finished their inaugural year with an embarrassing 23-59 record.

Thabo: I was excited about a new opportunity. I didn’t know where it was. The first thing I did was go on Google and type in ‘Oklahoma City’ and just see where it was on the map. I looked on NBA.com at the roster and thought ‘ok, this is where I am going, so….' (shrugs)
Bertille: It was a big question mark. We had no preconceived ideas. Except we had heard it was in the Bible Belt and very conservative. So I was concerned, since we were international, if people would even know where Switzerland was and how they would interact with us. We’ve been very surprised in a very good way- people [in Oklahoma] are well rounded and well-traveled.

Their new OKC neighbors threw them a big welcome party. The Thunder organization took care of them, introducing them to people who helped locate a home, good schools, grocery stores, and restaurants.

The Sefolosha family seems to be thriving in OKC. Their daughters, now ages four and five, have started school. Bertille is finishing up her master’s degree in International Affairs at UCO and does some modeling when she can find the time. They try to spend as much family time together as possible when Thabo isn’t traveling to out of town games. They enjoy going on walks or going to the park. In the offseason, they return to their home in Switzerland.

Thabo is somewhat strict as a father, according to Bertille. The sisters stick to a rigorous 7:30pm bedtime and aren’t allowed to watch TV during the day or on a school night. Instead, dad plays lots of games with them.



Left: Naledi (Nana), age 4. Right: Lesedi, age 5.
(Photo: Sefolosha Family Collection)
Bertille: The girls are old enough now that they understand daddy is going to a game and they want him to do good so they give him kisses and wish him good luck.

Thabo and Bertille like to watch different T.V. series together. Currently, they are watching Homeland. Next up? Scandal. 

Thabo is an attentive husband. He buys Bertille flowers and presents often- just because. He’s humble and reserved, she says. He doesn’t like to talk about himself. He’s playful as well. She admits to being fairly gullible, which Thabo often exploits. A couple of weeks ago, Thabo knew Bertille was cooking dinner for him after a home game. He texted her saying that he was going to eat at a restaurant instead.

Bertille: (laughing) I was about to blow up…..and then he came around the corner.

Thabo has a pre-game ritual for all his home games. Bertille cooks for him- chicken and pasta, usually. He drinks fresh orange juice from Whole Foods. And then he sings and dances to South African house music in his bathroom.

Bertille: I’ve been thinking about trying to catch that last part on video soon.

The couple mentions they are competitive with each other, which is obvious by the way they playfully banter across the table at lunch.

We asked who had more shoes. Because, well, that’s an obvious question.

Bertille: Thabo has triple than me.
Thabo: Yeah, but mine are free.
Bertille: Not true! He might even have more than triple. It’s embarrassing to put a number on it. It’s a room full of shoes.
Thabo: No! Noooo! (he shakes his head vehemently)
Bertille: Dressy shoes, tennis shoes…
Thabo: 70% are basketball shoes, 70% are Nike....
Bertille: No. That’s not true. He has a lot of non-Nike shoes.
Lerato: (Thabo’s assistant) Let’s just say there’s a room…when you walk in: SHOES.
Thabo: It’s a small room.

Thabo says he beat his wife at basketball once. Bertille denied they ever played. Bertille says she thinks she could probably beat him at tennis eventually. One time, they played three games.

Thabo: I beat you, all three games!
Bertille: It was very close
Thabo: The first one was close.
Bertille: Then I got tired of it.

Bertille says she’s better at non-athletic games, like Taboo. Thabo subtly argues that “it’s a tie” at Taboo, but concedes she’s better at Scrabble, and only Scrabble.

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For the past three seasons, Thabo has played a significant role in the Thunder’s success. When this season began, he created a buzz by changing his jersey number from #2 to #25 with little to no explanation.

Regardless, we asked.

Bertille: He’s not going to tell you.

She was right. But gUrl to gUrl, Bertille gave us the scoop.

Bertille: He drew himself with the number 25 jersey playing for the Chicago Bulls when he was twelve and his mom still has the drawing. When he got drafted by the Chicago Bulls, it wasn’t available. So now, it’s available for him.

Thabo's drawing from age twelve. (Photo: NBA.com)
For Thabo, changing his jersey to #25 wasn’t simply an insignificant gesture, made on a whim. It’s much more than that. It’s the completed realization of a far-fetched childhood dream from nearly two decades ago.


Guess what? His fairytale came true. We gUrls just love a happy ending.

Photo: NBA.com

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