Why the Thunder rolls in Oklahoma
In the interests of full disclosure, I am not a basketball fan. Hoops hold, at best, a passing interest for me. I realize that I can’t use boredom as an excuse because I am a baseball fan, the most genteel game this side of bocce ball and chess. I will say that I don’t appreciate NBA uniforms, which do the least service for the human buttocks of any professional sports uniform. And while theoretically, the high-scoring games should be intensely exciting, all that shoe-squeaking scintillation just doesn’t get my blood boiling. I’d rather watch Joakim Noah’s hair for signs of sentience than watch him dribble the ball … normally.
But I am a Thunder fan (and to my Mavericks-loving best friend I say, close the tab now).
Much has been written about the relationship between the Thunder and its fans. The jackal pack meets its deadlines by speculating on why the interior of Chesapeake Energy Arena looks like it has the highest, most come-to-Jesus-y energy level of any gathering this side of an Oprah’s Favorite Things audience.
And here is another wordsmith opining on the topic because it bears repeating now that the Thunder is hitting the downward side of its awkward adolescent arc. Just consider this installment No. 2 in Nicole’s Oklahoma pep talks.
‘We are young’
Let’s do a quick roundup of Oklahoma’s sporting options. We have two minor league baseball teams in the Redhawks and the Drillers, the farm teams for the Astros and the Rockies, respectively. We have two hockey teams in the Barons and Oilers, members of the AHL and CHL, respectively. And then we have the fanatical realm of college football, in which we channel our collective fears of inadequacy into the rootin-tootin’est, tailgatin’est obsession this side of the Mississippi. This landscape remained unchanged for many years.
Then, a wild James Harden appeared. Kevin Durant rode into Bricktown on a gilded stallion with nylon reins, followed by Sir Westbrook wielding a golden sword aflame with the light of 1,000 virgin oracles. Scott Brooks presumably walked off the set of a CBS procedural drama to fill Oklahoma City’s tastefully striped-neckwear void and lead this haphazard band of superheroes. Suddenly, this city — and state — that had loved the Hornets in their brief stint with more passion than any foster parent before now had a bouncing bundle of its very own.
Yet Oklahoma City was an enigma. The critiques from other fandoms usually center on the argument that OKC fans know nothing of basketball because this is a football state. Had the talking heads taken AP English, however, they would know that hasty generalizations such as that serve no place in logical rhetoric outside the world of AM radio.
For the sake of argument, though, let’s work under the assumption that some people who Thunder Up don’t spend their leisure hours watching ESPN Classic footage of the 1974 All-Star Game. It’s still not fair to doubt the unabashed enthusiasm of Thunder lovers. Why? Well, just because the ball’s orange, doesn’t mean this team isn’t a commodity we already know.
This team is a band of youngsters — and Derek Fisher. The players are youthful, reckless, oft-inconsistent and even-more-often capable of electrifying stunts. With the exception of Brandon Weeden, the same can be said of our state’s main athletes: college footballers. That kind of rollercoaster play is what we know and understand. We like things we know and understand; there is no other explanation for the existence of Rit Mathis-led Mathis Brothers commercials.
The idea that Thunder fans will stop showing up in droves if/when the team begins to chronically underperform is equally ludicrous because Landry Jones.
Everybody Most People Some people still stick by him, and every Sooners fan still shows up diligently to malign whichever unlucky shmuck happens to be the offensive coordinator that week.
‘Rumble is the gift to give ’cause he’s the gift that’ll live and live’
No matter how many times I, or someone else who uses the word “y’all” liberally, try to explain the importance of the Thunder to the state of Oklahoma to someone born/raised/living elsewhere, I never think s/he gets it — despite the polite nodding or gentlemanly “hmmms.”
I may not be covering any new ground here, but I’m going to try to articulate the explanation for why the Thunder is as vital to Oklahoma as the BC Clark jingle is annoying.
First, the public image of the Sooner State is usually one of three things: teepees, Tea Parties or trailer parks. Like it or not, them’s the facts. On a good day, we can conjure up thoughts of Curly’s beautiful morning, and on a bad day, Oklahoma’s a symbol less of Rogers & Hammerstein and more of a they-took-our-jobs rant straight out of South Park. Thus, it could not be more appealing that Kevin Durant could come to represent Oklahoma in the same way that Peyton Manning did Indianapolis while he still had a neck or Lebron did Cleveland while he still had some dignity.
Furthermore, this squad of amiable, oddly manscaped, media-friendly ballers is akin to our phoenix in the ashes. They are hope. They are revitalized downtowns and reenergized economies. They are weekend plans and water-cooler bonding moments. They are another instance in our long history of appreciation for the sound made by lightning. They are reprieves from a legislative docket seemingly more interested in freewheeling ovaries than patchwork roadways, shambling educational systems, a continuous poverty cycle and the fact that we are now legally allowed to consume tacos made of Doritos.
So nearly 1,000 words later, what I’m forced to say is that the Thunder means more to Oklahoma than I can actually say. It’s why a Durantula dunk can invigorate even people whose only prolonged exposure to basketball came from “Space Jam.” Just as Americans periodically pretend to care about soccer when the World Cup rolls around, I’ll pull a Brandi Chastain when the Thunder wins the big prize. As I’m sure Nick Collison will as well.