It started as many modern day mysteries do these days: Twitter.
During Monday’s preseason opener against the Sydney Kings, a fan came forward with a story pitch:
Hey @kylegoon if you want a piece on the new guys, ask Thabo about saving the lady with his raft going down the Provo River.— The Bird (@UtahUtesMan) October 3, 2017
Did Thabo Sefolosha save someone’s life?
“Who told you about the lady?” Sefolosha said when asked that question after Friday morning shootaround. “Wow, that’s random.”
But what the Jazz forward may view as a small encounter last month on the Provo River was a life-saving moment — and Lori Clark wants him, and fans of the Jazz, to know how much it meant to her.
“He didn’t realize I was really in dire straits,” she said in an interview with the Tribune. “He really did save my life that day.”
The 33-year-old Sefolosha has made it a point to go outdoors with his wife, Bertille, and two daughters, Lesedi and Naledi, to adapt to their new home. The day after they flew in from Europe, they decided to go rafting on a warm Sunday.
“We didn’t know exactly what to expect,” he said. “It was a little more challenging than we thought.”
It was rougher for some than others: Clark had decided to float on the river with several of her friends and her children, on what she called a “bucket list” adventure. But the river was faster and harder to handle than anticipated — many weekend tubers can relate.
With about 20 minutes left on the trip, Clark hit a boulder in the stream and flipped over. Her tube and oars quickly floated downstream. Her life vest rode up past her head, and she was struggling for air.
“I always wondered how people drowned in small water before this happened,” she said. “The water was so swift, I couldn’t catch my breath. It was really terrifying.”
One of her friends, Heidi Bishop, grabbed her shirt and tried to take her along with her, but she was worried that Clark might capsize her as well. As she thrashed along in the water, Clark was hitting rocks in the stream, gathering cuts and bruises.
They asked for help from at least one other person as they struggled: He advised them to keep along as they were and then went on his way.
It was at this moment of peril that the Sefoloshas came up the river. Thabo asked if he could help, then helped lift her into his raft.
“I don’t know how I would’ve gotten her 20 more minutes down the river,” Bishop recalled. “He really did save her life.”
As Clark was trying to soothe her nerves from the ordeal, she made idle conversation with the family, who was speaking in a foreign language. Sefolosha said he had recently moved from Atlanta for work.
“When I asked him where he worked, he just said he worked for the Jazz, not that he played for them,” Clark said. “I kind of figured he was a player because his feet were so big.”
If Sefolosha had only let her out 20 minutes later on dry land, most would’ve considered his duty done. But he exchanged numbers with Clark, then called on her the next day — partly asking for suggestions on places he could rent or buy, but also to check on how she was recovering.
Sefolosha’s assertion at practice was “I didn’t save nobody,” but it’s not as if the Provo River is always an easy journey: Three people died in May this year in the volatile waters. Many more have experienced tumbling in the Provo and struggling to get back afloat.
Few get an assist from an NBA star.
“It’s really nice to watch the Jazz now because they have a nice player on who will help anybody,” Clark said. “I just think Utah’s really lucky to have him. I thank God every day he showed up when he did.”
While his schedule is starting to get a little hectic for more outdoor recreation, Sefolosha said he enjoyed getting to know Utah over the summer. The family also went ziplining this year.
“Early on, we enjoyed it,” he said. “The kids are the age where they can really enjoy the outdoor activities.”
And, apparently, the occasional act of heroism.