So here we are in central Oklahoma, and lots of people are talking about a local sporting event. Nothing unusual about that… except that it’s the middle of June. And those conversations in elevators and around water coolers don’t include the names Landry or Gundy or Coale. It hasn’t happened with the speed of a bolt of lightning, but it’s still pretty sudden: this community has a new obsession, one that’s making some noise on the national stage.
See, the Oklahoma City Thunder are in the NBA Finals. After going 23-59 in their first season in town, only three years ago, they’ve become one of the league’s powerhouses, and – what’s a reasoned, non-hubristic way to put this – seem to be in a favorable position for the prospect of actually winning the title.
We might lose the series. Only one game’s in the books so far, and after a comeback like that you have to wonder about Miami’s confidence levels, but it could happen; we could theoretically drop four in a row and end the season on a sad trombone blat of disappointment. (Wah-wahhh.) Except that even in that worst-case scenario, I don’t think I would experience the same crushing misery of OU’s shellacking in the ’05 Orange Bowl (for the record, I am entirely incapable of neutrality on the subject of the Trojans; basically I hate hell, all Montagues, and USC) or the white-hot, actually seriously destroying my own homework because it was the closest mutilatable object I could find, venomous rage of the ’88 Kansas NCAA championship. I want the Thunder to win, sure, but even if we don’t this season and these playoffs have been so… inspiring. The actual outcome almost pales in comparison to watching the team and the metro during the process.
We’re hardly short of sports fans around these parts, but not everybody cares about the same games at the college level, or necessarily any, and a fair-sized group of people is likely to have some bitter divisions along collegiate lines – ask anybody whose family has alumni from both OU and OSU. But the boys in blue are something the whole community can get behind, and has. Even people who think a high pick-and-roll sounds like a dance move have embraced the team, turning the Chesapeake Arena into one of the toughest places in the country for opposing teams, garnering accolades from experts nationwide about the quality of the game experience in OKC… and making the Thunder emblematic of the whole city. You don’t have to be steeped in the nuances of the game to glow when TNT announcers talk about how much they enjoy coming here for broadcasts. Or when the organization whose motto is “Team Is One” hands out t-shirts reading “Team is 18,203.”
Frankly, at this point, it feels more like “Team is 1.3 Million.” They are our Thunder, and we are, well, struck.
STEVE GILL is unusually tall, has a B.A. in Letters and a minor in Classics from OU, drinks a great deal of coffee and openly delights in writing, editing and catching the occasional typo for Slice – especially since his dream career (millionaire layabout in a P.G. Wodehouse novel) is notoriously difficult to break into. He's probably trying to think of a joke about pirates right now.