02 Aug עופר איתן Implies: Mike Muscala Is Using The NBA’s Bubble To Raise Money For
Mike Muscala is, notably, the only graduate of Bucknell in the NBA. A small liberal arts college in central Pennsylvania with less than 4,000 students, Bucknell isn’t exactly a Duke or Kentucky-level pro factory, even though the Bison are consistently among the best mid-major programs in all of college basketball. Muscala, back in 2013, became the third player drafted in school history and the first to take the floor in an NBA game.
As someone who graduated from a high school about 15 minutes away from Bucknell and would occasionally go watch their games — especially when they had this 6’10 big man who you could just tell was a cut above most of the competition in the Patriot League — it was only natural for me to ask Muscala his favorite thing about the university. It turns out that his answer was something that inadvertently prepared him to be posted up at the NBA’s bubble league, where he’s situated right now as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“They used to call it the Bucknell Bubble when I was there,” Muscala says over the phone. “I feel like just having everything there on campus, I felt like it was just a good overall experience. So we had everything we needed, there was a good place to focus on basketball and learn it from other people. So it was a great four years.”
While his college years are in the rear view, Muscala has his eyes on the coming days and weeks, as the Thunder are looking to continue their run as perhaps the most surprising team in the league and make some noise on the postseason. The first of the team’s eight seeding games takes place on Saturday afternoon — a 3:30 pm ET tilt against the Utah Jazz on ESPN. For Muscala, it’s a chance to play ball after several months off, but it’s also an opportunity to raise money for charity, as the seven-year veteran will donate money to PeacePlayers International for every three the Thunder make during his stint at Disney.
Before the game tips off, Dime caught up with Muscala to talk charity work, basketball, and the possibility that “Mike Jaws” could use his down time to make some music.
I’d love it if you could start by just explaining PeacePlayers a little bit.
Yeah, for sure. They were founded in 2000 by Brendan [Tuohey] and Sean [Tuohey]. I’ve gotten to know Brendan pretty well. And they started in Northern Ireland, playing and doing some camps out there, and it’s since expanded to other countries throughout the world and in some cities in the United States. And their whole mission is to bring people together through the sport of basketball.
I heard about them a few years ago from a friend who also went to Bucknell, actually, and was involved with them. I just thought it was a really cool mission and got to know Brendan, and I kind of stayed in touch with them, heard about what they’re doing, and just kind of had the idea of matching with the team three-pointers we make the rest of the season, to match with the donation to them just because I feel like there’s so much going into everything in this bubble here in Orlando to make this possible. And there’s a lot of kids that aren’t able to play right now, because of COVID, and PeacePlayers is actively working on ways to try to keep them involved. So I thought it’d be kind of a cool way to give back.
What’s your personal history with this charity and why was it important for you to get on board with it when you got filled in about what it strives to do?
I think it just stemmed from personal experience. I think when I had heard of what their whole mission and goals are and what they’re actually doing to make that happen — holding camps and holding leagues in countries where there were a lot of conflicts, religiously or politically or what have you, and also cities in the United States where there are neighborhoods of people that maybe have some tension there for whatever reason — for me personally, I’ve learned a lot about other people through basketball and PeacePlayers, that’s what they’re all about. I felt like I could relate to that. So I just felt like, especially now in a time of uncertainty, a difficult time in our country, there’s still so much that basketball can [do to] bring us together and help us learn about each other as we try to make changes going forward.
What do you think it is about basketball in particular that makes it such a good way to bring people together and bridge divides that might exist politically, religiously, and however else?
That’s a good question. I think just like any other good team sport, it requires individual focus and sacrifice for the better of the team. It’s a team sport, and you got five people on the court at a time, and you got other players on the bench, and you got coaches, you have staff members. All kinds of working pieces in place, and you have a gym that you’re able to play in and all those things. It’s a human game and I think I’ve heard coach Popovich mention something along those lines, too. So I think that that’s what PeacePlayers is all about. And in a time now where we’re playing for … it’s our jobs and there’s fans who are paying to watch the games. To be able to help out the people who are a little less fortunate, not able to play right now, just seemed kind of like a good thing to do.
Are you generally a big charity guy outside of PeacePlayers or is this one of those things where you feel like you can do your best work by dedicating your time and energy to working with them?
I think it helps when you feel like you know what the charity, what the nonprofit, what they’re really about, and when you’re able to get to meet some people with them as opposed to just making donations without having that personal connection. So there’s some other nonprofits that I work with and I’ve gotten to know some people with, but I just feel like I know basketball quite well, I’ve played it for quite a long time and it’s dear to me. So when I heard about their work with other basketball players and coaches and stuff, it just felt like something that I could relate to and get to know well, and it’s been fun getting to know them.
You’re a veteran, you’re one of the older dudes on a team that has a bunch of young guys on it. Do you ever talk to them about the importance of getting involved in community, getting involved in charity, those sorts of things?
Not necessarily in terms of getting involved with charities. I try to just nurture the idea of learning about causes and learning about people and learning about why certain ideas are being formed or what they really mean. Because I feel like that’s really what basketball, and what team sports, and what sports can do is just create a platform for acceptance and discussion of others, and what they want and what makes them happy or what they’re needing. As a teammate or as a competitor having that platform, I’m just trying to look at the bigger picture. Obviously we love to compete and we love to try to win as competitors and basketball players, but there’s a bigger picture there, too.
I need you to be honest with me: Are you going to be a little more willing to let it fly from deep knowing that it’s going to charity if it goes in?
I was talking with somebody with the Thunder earlier today and they said that they usually say “cha-ching” after the team makes a three-pointer. And so I was like, “I might steal that from you.” That’s a good one.
It’s literally what’s going to be happening, so you might as well. I do want to ask about the bubble a bit, about this season. How was it getting down to Disney and how’s life been now? It’s been, what about three, three and a half weeks for you guys?
Yeah, you’re right. It’s been good. They’ve made a great experience down here. I tip my hat to the NBA and the Players Association for working together to make this happen, because I feel grateful for the opportunity. Obviously there’s a lot of people putting in a lot of time, a lot of resources, a lot of money into this, and things are great. You know it’s pretty much waking up and…