COLUMN: OKC Thunder united Oklahoma, makes it scary for others
Dayton Clark, The Oklahoma Daily
Most days, I wake up still surprised Oklahoma City has a legit NBA team. Thursday, I woke up in disbelief that OKC’s team will host the NBA Finals.
As a born-and-raised, proud Oklahoma City native, nothing has ever made me more excited. Nothing has brought this state together quite like this, and that scares some people.
I’ll be honest — other than watching Michael Jordan on TV and in “Space Jam,” I didn’t really like the NBA before 2005. I’ve always been an avid sports fan, but football owned my heart and basketball had little to offer me.
Or so I thought.
In just four short years, the Thunder have grown from the team we were promised after we took such good care of the Hornets to the team that has unified a state I thought would never wear the same colors.
When I was growing up, it was always crimson against orange, Tulsa against Oklahoma City and even north of Reno Avenue against south of Reno Avenue.
It seemed like folks around here just loved to disagree. For the most part, the disagreements weren’t so much because people hated the other side but because they loved their side.
Oklahomans have always been a proud people, but we’ve sometimes had trouble focusing our expression of pride in whatever we claim as our own, be it a team or an area code or a section of the City.
Then my dear hometown got a professional basketball team, and suddenly we had a singular focus for our love and pride. People threw on blue and orange, dropped their metropolitan biases (for the most part) and congregated together to watch the Thunder — OUR team. We stopped fighting each other and started cheering with each other.
After OKC’s 107-99 win in Game 6 on Wednesday to send the Spurs home and the Thunder to the NBA Finals, Thunder chairman Clay Bennett said what many of us were thinking:
“All I can think of is how this incredible group of young men has unified this city and state like never before.”
Oklahoma hasn’t ever been in the spotlight quite like this, either. The eyes of the nation are on our dear, small-market city and its fans. We’ve become the epitome of the 21st-century success story, and the rest of the country is watching to see what we’ll do next because they’re both curious and scared.
Oklahoma City shook up the norm in the NBA that the old guard was comfortable with.
They were happy with the Thunder winning just 23 games and staying away from the playoffs, and they wrote off our wild fan base because it was our first year with our own team.
They shrugged off Thunder general manager Sam Presti’s brilliant moves to build a sustainable and successful franchise in OKC, giving away Executive of the Year awards to less qualified men. How could they ignore one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history (from 23 wins to 50 wins in one season)? Because Presti isn’t old guard like Pat Riley and Larry Bird.
They downplayed OKC’s first playoff series, during which it gave the Lakers more than they’d bargained for. They said Kevin Durant was as much a one-man team as LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, and they said as long as the team had a point guard like Russell Westbrook, they couldn’t hold up against the NBA’s elite.
But they started to worry when the young guns blew through the playoffs to the Western Conference Finals, stopped only by the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. They flat-out fretted when the Mavericks got swept, the Lakers got outplayed and the Spurs’ 2-0 lead became a 3-2 disadvantage.
They don’t understand us, and they can’t rein us in — and that scares them.
Some — like Grantland columnist Carles — say Thunder fans should look forward to the time when they “mature and learn to 'act like they belong'” with the old, wizened fans of the Celtics, Lakers, Bulls and Spurs. I think he means to stop what we're doing and conform to the dry, lifeless way many other cities "love" their teams.
I say why should we? What is wrong with loving our team with everything we have or cheering for an entire game instead of the “few key moments?” Why do we need to settle down, stop caring so much and stop showing up so much?
Why should we change at all? We’re unified, we’re loud and we’re proud. And better.
You’re doing fine, Oklahoma — don’t change a bit.
James Corley is a journalism senior and the managing editor of The Daily. Follow him on Twitter at @jamesfcorley.