What it Means having the Oklahoma City Thunder
As a kid growing up in a small town in Oklahoma, sports were my escape from reality. I moved between the summer of third and fourth grade from Oklahoma City.
I remembered the card shops with Michael Jordan posters back in the city and my dad’s friends coming over to watch the Dallas Cowboys. We would take in a basketball game at my dad’s alma mater, OCC, and occasionally score tickets to watch the Sooners.
When we moved to a small town with not so much as a McDonald’s, sports came to represent the city and the friends we had left behind. I became a fan of the teams available to me on television.
WGN would broadcast nearly every Chicago Bulls game. The Dallas Cowboys never got bumped from the NFC slot, and the Sooners went from a national joke to National Champions in football all as I came of age.
I discovered the idea of fandom as Jordan led the Bulls to six championships in eight seasons. The Cowboys won three Super Bowls in four seasons, and Josh Heupel winked his way into my heart as he and Bob Stoops ran a cinderella season to a national championship.
I thought to be a fan of sports was enjoying that feeling of winning; the championships are why we are fans. Sure, I had a healthy appetite for memorabilia and gear.
I’d dedicate entire Christmas requests to one particular pinstriped jersey or save my monthly chores allowance for months until I could send off for a Troy Aikman autograph. Then I spent the next 20 plus years finding out that if I wanted to continue to be a sports fan, it couldn’t be based on championships any longer.
The Sooners never made it over the hump again, and the Bulls became a lottery team filled with dysfunction and terrible injury luck. Then there’s those Dallas Cowboys.
They managed to win three playoff games since those glory days. I spent the whole Tony Romo era defending that man as if he were responsible for the well-being of my family. But the championships were nowhere to be found.
I thought my circumstances had changed for sure, starting in 2008. MY state, the city that is written on my birth certificate, had acquired an NBA basketball team. It didn’t seem real at first. They floated out the team names that were being considered, and none of them sounded like a real NBA team name to me.
I was more excited to see Kobe and Allen Iverson come play in person than to see what PJ Carlesimo and his squad were going to do with a new name on the front of their jerseys. Like anyone else who doubted this team, I soon came to love them.
All my other fandoms melted away, and I began to focus nearly all my sports’ time on the Thunder. Then as I had experienced in every other fan experience in my past, the Thunder went on a meteoric rise.
Their new GM was almost the same age as I was and landed the team Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Jeff Green, and Thabo Sefolosha. They pushed the Lakers to the brink in the 2010 playoffs, only losing the elimination game by one point.
Taking lessons from my previous experience as a fan, I settled in and prepared myself for the parade. I never considered if they would win it all, but when. Even as I watched as the team trade Harden and lose Durant, I still believed somehow they would shock the world with the new NBA MVP in Russell Westbrook.
When they traded for Paul George, I thought the championship was coming. Then Russell and his new running mate left abruptly after another first-round exit in the playoffs. At first, I was frustrated and disappointed, especially since witnessing Russell win a ring in Oklahoma City was something I thought I would see.
This summer, after the Thunder roster was overturned, I thought about why I am a fan today. I’m no longer the 4th grader stuck in a small town; With the internet and streaming, I could chase championship fandom annually.
I could listen to the talking heads, check the lines in Vegas, and buy a fresh new hat every summer to prepare for my upcoming season of championship chasing. But I’m a Thunder fan. As a fan, we might be lucky if, once in our lifetimes, the team we choose to follow with everything we have wins it all.
You might get that one particular moment, but every other year will end in heartbreak and disappointment. That is, if rings and trophies are all you get from it.
Not having the Thunder during these uncertain times first made the virus very real for my kids. We were gathered around the television, ready to take in the Jazz game.
My son was pumped, telling everyone stats from his phone, and that if we take the game, we will move to the 4th seed and host a playoff series if the season ended tonight. Never did we think that half an hour later, that would come true.
We watched as the players exited for the locker room before the opening tip. Then the referees left, and the PA announcer told everyone to exit and that, “everyone is safe.” The Thunder and sports are our excuse to talk to each other.
They are our reason for staying up late to see if they can pull out another come back. They are our shared hopes and dreams. My daughter has become Steven Adams’ number one fan, and you can find my whole family sweating it out until the final 0:00 almost every game night.
We also live a mile from my aunt, who makes the best homemade food you have ever had. My kids love to talk to Aunt Linda about the games.
You can find my son on game nights quizzing Aunt Linda over who has the most dunks on the season (Nerlens Noel), or who would be on her legend team if one of them has to be from her home state. Over the years, we have gone to dozens of games at her house. I have had the best Pozole soup, Greek food, and snickerdoodles of my life because of Thunder game nights.
The Thunder gives us a reason to share, to love, to spend time together, high five, and to listen to podcasts on the way to school. We’ll never forget winning tickets to the Thunder/Blazers playoff game and seeing Russell win his last game in the Peake, or when my parents switched seats with us, and my wife and son got to sit in the second row.
But we’ll also never forget the times we spent with each other because of the Thunder. Being a fan of a team has little to do with wins or losses, and I’m almost certainly convinced it’s not about rings. Having the Thunder means more cookies and memories with my loved ones.
Without them, we still get together, but we don’t jump out of our seats in unbridled joy or cry on the way home because the shot fell just short. I used to think it was cheesy how the Thunder talks about community and togetherness in their branding.
I just thought they were buzz words to make us feel good about the team. But per usual, Sam Presti and the Thunder organization had it right all along. The Thunder is family. When things get better, and the NBA returns, I will know even more why I’m a fan. I’ll have the cookies to remind me.