End of a Rivalry

As the Oklahoma City Thunder set up for their game tonight against the New Orleans Hornets, I’m reminded that this is the first Hornets team completely absolved of any of its Oklahoma City history. What started as a response to an SOS from the league after one of the country’s worst national disasters has evolved into a love affair with a team that was formally from the Pacific Northwest. Who would have ever thought that the actions put forth from the response to Hurricane Katrina would have impacted 3 cities and 2 NBA franchises?

They say you never forget your first love. For someone who never thought he’d see a professional team in his home state, the arrival of the New Orleans Hornets was one of the best days of my life. I got on the phone as soon as I heard the news and was calling everywhere trying to find out where I could purchase season tickets. Novemeber 1st, 2005, was one of the most surreal days of my life. I was sitting there watching a regular season NBA game in Oklahoma City, with a team that was partially known as the OKC somethings. Needless to say, the New Orleans Hornets quickly became Oklahoma City’s first love when it came to professional sports.

We got to see the infancy of a point god, as we hosted Chris Paul during his rookie of the year campaign. We got to see the progression of David West from disappointing young player to “on the brink” All Star. We got to see JR Smith go from young, budding star to knucklehead. We saw game winners! We got to live the NBA experience. In return, Oklahoma City got showered with praise that it had never seen in such a positive light. We had been previously showered with praise before, namely in April 1995 and May 1999, but those were in response to tragedies that happened on our soil. But this was the national media heaping praise on us for our support of this nomadic franchise, and we started to kind of like it.

But alas, we knew it probably wouldn’t last. After that first season, there were inklings of hope among the populace that the Hornets may actually stay in Oklahoma City. And they did….for one more season. In hindsight, that was just foolish thinking from someone being in love. In the back of our minds, we knew that the NBA would never abandon New Orleans in its darkest hour. The NBA wanted to be there to celebrate New Orleans’s greatest triumph. But it still hurt when they officially returned back to the N.O. after the 2006-2007 season.

Fast-forward to the beginning of the 2008-2009 season. Through all the waiting and legal proceedings, the Seattle Supersonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC finally had its team and were revving up with Thunder fever. But most of us still had a very soft spot for our first love, the New Orleans Hornets. It was very apparent to me during the first Thunder game, when the ref signaled that a loose ball belonged to us and the PA announcers asked, “Who’s ball is it??????” That was the most difficult question I’ve ever had to answer in my life. My mind kept saying, “Remember to say Thunder ball, not Hornets ball!”.

Then the moment that we had been waiting for happened. On November 21st, 2008, OKC’s old team went up against OKC’s new team in OKC. It was like watching your ex-girlfriend fighting against your current wife. You want your current wife to win, but you don’t want her to slaughter your ex. We applauded when they introduced CP3, David West, Tyson Chandler, and even, Peja. Then they went out there and kicked our ass. They kicked it so bad that the coach was fired after the game.

Of course, the roles have reversed a bit as of late. The Thunder are one of the top teams in the league, and the Hornets have been on the brink of a rebuild for awhile, now. February 2nd, 2011 was the last time OKC got to experience the love-struck rivalry that was OKC vs. New Orleans. The last two remaining members of the OKC Hornets team were Chris Paul and David West. After suffering an ACL tear, David West never received an extension from New Orleans, and instead, chose to sign with the Indianapolis Pacers. Chris Paul went on to be traded to the Clippers in a blockbuster deal that transformed to junior varsity Clippers into Lob City.

So when the two teams meet up tonight, it will just be another game for me. I knew the day would come where the Thunder would face a Hornets team that had no connections to OKC at all. I just never thought it would get here so quickly. But such is the revolving door of NBA rosters. The only relic that still remains on the New Orleans team from its time in OKC is a HoneyBee by the name of Christina (pictured above). Other than that, its just another game in January. It has truly been a short, but strange ride.

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