Let me let you in on a big secret: I’m not a big gamer. Growing up in the 90’s, in a time where the gamer subculture was created, I, instead, chose to go outside to play drive-way basketball and neighborhood street football (the curbs were the sidelines, the lawns were out of bounds, and it would behoove you not to try anything athletic around a brick mailbox). Even today, as 30-somethings, I still have friends that completely geek out over the latest Madden, NBA2K, or Call of Duty. While I enjoy playing a game or two, usually getting murdered in the process, I don’t share the sustained love for video games as some of my cohorts.
But there is one game that I will always look back on with high regard. In elementary school, whenever computers were first being introduced to our generation, the one game that I always loved playing was Oregon Trail. I would grab that 5.25″ floppy disk and immerse myself in pioneer life. I don’t know if it was the “reality” of the game or the fact that I’m a history buff, but for some reason, the game resonated with me.
If you’re too young to have ever played the game, the basic premise revolves around you (the player) being the wagon leader to a group of settlers traversing through the wilderness from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Before you start, you to buy the supplies you need with an allotted amount of money. Choose the wrong supplies, and your journey can get off on the wrong foot. Along the way, obstacles present themselves in the forms of disease, lack of supplies, exhaustion, and accidental deaths. It was an 1840’s version of reality TV, but in the form of an educational video game.
Which brings me to the Oklahoma City Thunder and the season they are having. I’ve tried to remember a comparable situation to what the Thunder have been facing this season. The only thing that comes close in my estimation is the 2006-07 Oklahoma City/New Orleans Hornets season. The Hornets went into that season with visions of getting a playoff spot after acquiring Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic in the offseason. Those two, combined with David West and reigning rookie of the year Chris Paul, were thought to be the nucleus of an up-n-coming playoff-bound team. Instead, injuries completely derailed the season. Stojakovic missed the final 69 games of the season due to back surgery, West missed 30 games with an elbow ailment, Paul missed 18 games with a sprained ankle, Chandler missed 9 games with a toe injury (damn toe injuries!), and 6th man Bobby Jackson missed 26 games due to cracked ribs. The Hornets battled valiantly the entire season and were in playoff contention till the final week, but fell 3 games short of the 8th spot.
The major difference between the Thunder and the Hornets was that one went into the season as a fringe playoff team and the other went into the season as a championship contender. For some reason though, I keep coming back to the game. If every season is a journey, then what better comparative tool than a game that focuses exclusively on the journey and the obstacles encountered along the way. If we’re going to compare the two, then we have to do it right. One of the first things the game asks you to do is name the settlers that are traveling with you. Of the 19 people on this journey (GM Sam Presti, Coach Scott Brooks, and 17 players), here’s what they’ve been named.
|Sam Presti – Wagon Leader (You)
||Scott Brooks – Pa
||Kevin Durant – Kevin
|Russell Westbrook – Russ
||Serge Ibaka – Blocka
||Andre Roberson – The Closet
|Steven Adams – The Wall
||Reggie Jackson – Lil’ Regg
||Dion Waiters – Dee
|Nick Collison – Mr. Thunder
||Anthony Morrow – 2Turnt
||Kendrick Perkins – Perk
|Mitch McGary – Young’in
||Perry Jones – PJ
||Ish Smith – The Blur
|Jeremy Lamb – Sleepy
||Grant Jerrett – G
||Sebastian Telfair – Bassy
|Lance Thomas – Lancelot
The journey, of course, starts off in training camp a.k.a Independence, Missouri. It can be quite ominous when the beginning of the journey is marred with small tragedies. G hurt his leg before the journey even started, and knew he would start the trip off in the wagon. Before the team even reached the first river crossing on the journey, Kevin and Young’in went down with the measles. Apparently they were sleeping in close quarters when they both took ill. As the team approached the Kansas River Crossing (beginning of the season) more members of the party went down with differing maladies. 2Turnt had a bout with cholera, Lil’ Regg took to dysentery, and Sleepy hurt his back putting the supplies in the wagon.
Kansas River Crossing (Beginning of the season – Oct. 29 – Nov. 23)
The team forded the Kansas River Crossing, which was a bit deeper than usual due to the incessant rainfall (all the tears shed by Thunder fans because of Kevin’s “measles”). In the process of fording the river, Russ got his hand caught in the wagon wheel and injured it. With that injury, the troupe had 7 people laid up in the wagon. With so many bodies down, Pa needed the other settlers to step up. Surprisingly, PJ, who had nary shown any initiative before, began to show why the wagon leader had brought him on the trip. Guys like Lancelot and Bassy started to prove their worth also. On the fourth day, Lil’ Regg had recovered enough from dysentery to finally join the working class of the group. After barely eating due to his illness, Lil’ Regg took to hoarding a lot of the food at dinner. Perk and Blocka looked on in disappointment at Lil’ Regg’s behavior. Eventually, Lil’ Regg righted himself, but has continued to battle with selfishness throughout the journey. PJ, on the other hand, stepped into a prairie dog hole on the 5th day of travel, and made his way to the wagon to recover. Even The Closet made a trip to the wagon after getting his foot tangled up in some nets. It got so bad for the laborers, that the group eventually had to hire an extra settler to help them on their journey. Luckily, The Blur was well liked by the Wagon Leader and Pa. As the days went by, more of the settlers got healthier, but the journey was becoming more and more arduous. By the 15th day, only Kevin, Russ, G, Young’in, and PJ remained in the wagon.
The Plains (Nov. 26 – Dec. 18)
With Kevin and Russ finally healthy, the group started working to gain the ground that was lost with all their setbacks from the beginning of their journey. The upcoming terrain was flat with nary an obstacle. Unfortunately, Bassy was bitten by a venom0us snake and had to be left on the side of the road. Last the settlers heard, Bassy was picked up by a band of Chinese settlers and is currently working with them. There was a stretch where the settlers made up 7 days on their trip and had everyone out of the wagon and working. Everything was looking up, until one day, while Kevin laying down the fire for all the settlers, he was stricken with a bout of scurvy, which sent him to the wagon. Young’in was also back in the wagon with him after an incident at a peyote bar left him with some bumps and bruises from some of the native folk.
The Hills (Dec. 19 – Jan. 7)
Russ took the reins over for the next 5 days and kept the wagon moving on schedule. They hit some bumps in the road, but were rolling at a consistent pace. But as is the case with Russ, his stubbornness can sometimes get the best of him. You see, Russ is so skilled at what he does that he sometimes lacks in trusting others with his workload, even when it’s obvious they could be of some assistance. On the 32nd and 33rd day of the journey, some of that mistrust manifested itself in the form of selfishness and bullheadedness. In fact, even after Kevin recovered from scurvy, Russ got into a heap with some “warrior” settlers and Pa sent him to the wagon to get over his temper-tantrum. This led to another lost day. The settlers in the group, at this point, were suffering from exhaustion and mental weakness. The Wagon Leader noticed that some other settlers were eyeing Lancelot. The Wagon Leader also had his eye on a wild gunslinger known as Dee. So he bartered Lancelot (and future food rations) for Dee in hopes that Dee would provide something that was missing in the group.
Courthouse Rock (Jan. 9 – Jan. 21)
After spending an entire day traveling next to another group of settlers who apparently were a traveling music band, the troupe made their way to an inn for some much needed rest. The extra rest proved useful as the settlers made up four days on their journey. At this point in the journey, the group was actually a couple days ahead of schedule.
Scotts Bluff (Jan. 23 – Jan. 31)
The North Platte River. One of the more treacherous passages on the journey. Many a trip goes awry trying to traverse this water way. And it was not different for this group of settlers. The water was roaring and a bit higher than usual. In the process of fording the river, many supplies were lost. In the process, Kevin stepped on a beaver, which in turn bit his toe and sent him back to the wagon for a couple days. The days that the settlers gained in Courthouse Rock, were quickly lost trying to get through the river and Scotts Bluff. It was at this point in the journey where the settlers were at a crossroad. Go one way and you risk getting off track and losing your way heading into the spring. Go the other way, and you allow the past couple days to toughen you.
The South Pass a.k.a the halfway point of the Oregon Trail (Feb. 2 – Feb. 11)
The settlers chose the path that would toughen them up, but lead them in the right direction. They made gains in this leg of their journey, but also suffered a loss. The Wall, one of the stronger members of the troupe (the resident heavy lifter), got into a fight with a male bison and injured his hand. He may have been sent to the wagon for a couple days, but the settlers regained some of the food they had lost in the river. The settlers found their way to another inn and got some much needed rest.
What adventures await the settlers from here on out? There is still treacherous terrains and rapid rivers that the settlers have to get over in order to reach their destinations. In fact, some of the members of the troupe may not be with them when they begin their journey anew. The rumors are that some Spanish settlers have an ox of a man that could help out this current troupe. In exchange though, they would like two or three of our current settlers. Another issue complicating things is that the ox of a man also has issues with his feet, which makes him a problem for a band of travelers. Another group, the Gold Diggers, have a man whose skin is full of markings, but is also a skilled marksman. Whatever happens, you can figure the Wagon Leader will try to get the best collection of settlers together into to get this group to their ultimate destination.