A few years ago, we published a story about Shabar Ewing, who at the time was the go-to guy for your favorite hoopers when they arrived in the Big Apple. Calling Shabar the plug doesn’t suffice, he was more like the source. Whether they needed help securing a reservation at a Michelin-star restaurant, bottle service at a prestigious nightclub or simply a trusted confidant to mitigate any potential drama that comes with a night out as a high-profile athlete, call Shabar and he was sure to hold it down. As a right-hand man and party promoter, he was making upwards of 25k on any given night. But after over a decade of working in nightlife, Shabar realized it wasn’t sustainable, either monetarily or personally. He sought something more meaningful and substantial.
“I didn’t have an idea of what my future looked like at that moment of being in the clubs, just promoting and being around the guys… so I was just taking it as is,” says Shabar.
Eventually, his stars began to align themselves. In 2017, he met some heavy hitters from Adidas and found his way to establishing a full-time role with the company, which marked the turning point in not only his career but also his perspective moving forward. “From me working with Adidas as a marketing consultant in the grassroots basketball department, that kind of, like, sparked my interest of, oh, I could work corporate, I can actually do this… That made me shelf nightlife,” Shabar recalls. “It gave me the idea that I can do something different and leverage my relationships and leverage my abilities.”
His journey is exemplary of how the game can enable a kid who was dealt a tough hand to make the most of his cards. He grew up in a single-parent household in Redfern Projects, one of the notorious projects in Queens, and says he clawed his way out. “My mom was adamant about me getting out of the projects, she wanted a better life for me and I thank her for that,” says Shabar. “A big part of that pathway was putting me in sports. I think that’s the first encounter of the idea of getting out the hood–it’s sports or rap. Once I picked up that basketball, I felt empowered.” And like many young Black boys who grow up in the projects, Shabar had hoop dreams of making it in the pros. Unfortunately, his playing days were cut short after sustaining a knee injury while playing at City College of San Francisco, but the game remained a central component of his life trajectory. He never got to realize his NBA dream… as a player. He still found a way to the League, just in a different way.
Today, Shabar is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s fan development experience coordinator, a role he accepted last November. “It was a real emotional moment, to be honest with you,” Shabar says of the moment he learned he had been offered the job. “You know, you dream of getting drafted. This was my draft.”
As a fan development experience coordinator, Shabar’s priority is creating an intersection with culture and basketball through activities that engage local fans. It’s something that’s much easier said than done, especially for a small market like Oklahoma City. But Shabar is equipped with the experience to excel. “It’s something I’ve been doing for a long time,” he says. “In a sense, promoting parties is that intersection between sports and culture and lifestyle branding. I was creating experiences in New York City; I’m just bringing that same thing here.”
Shabar has gotten off to a great start in helping strengthen the bond between the Oklahoma City locals and the Thunder. He recently spearheaded an “HBCU Night” in honor of Black History Month, in which they highlighted Oklahoma’s only HBCU, Langston University, where students created a special edition shirt inspired by the tradition of their school. The night’s goal was “education, elevation and celebration,” says Shabar. Safe to say, mission accomplished.
“I’m just here trying to grow and learn everything I can from everybody that’s around me,” Shabar says. “Eventually I would want to step into a leadership role… but I’m happy to continue the journey with a sports organization, specifically the OKC Thunder. It’s a great time to be here.”
At the time of publishing, the Thunder are first in the Western Conference. If they continue to win at this rate and our SLAM 247 cover stars continue to progress as rapidly as they are, Shabar’s job is made that much easier.
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Photos by Brooke Brennan and Stuart Bennett.