Tag Archives: Ford Center

5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings

kd russ

5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season  |  5 for 5: The Rivalries  |  5 for 5: The Run  |  5 for 5: The Thunder’s Godfather

This past season, the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their 5th season in the state of Oklahoma. In a world dominated by round numbers, getting to the midway point is always a cause for celebration. In any relationship, you look back at key moments that made it possible to arrive at certain anniversary marks. In the next few weeks heading into training camp, I’ll be looking at 5 defining moments that made it possible for the Thunder to not only roar into the Plains, but also to do it in winning fashion.

For the first defining moment, you have to, of course, start at the beginning. But, it’s not the beginning that you think. While the Thunder were established in 2008, the road to having them in OKC began in December 1994. It was during that time that Timothy McVeigh visited and decided that the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building would be the site of his mayhem.

After meticulously planning and gathering the necessary materials, McVeigh, and his accomplice Terry Nichols, put their plan into action for April of 1995. They rented a Ryder moving truck on April 15th in Kansas and packed it with its deadly payload on the 17th and 18th. The next day, they drove down to Oklahoma City where, at 9:02 AM, they detonated the 4,800 pound monster that resided inside of the Ryder truck. The blast completely dismantled the north side of the building leaving countless people injured and 168 dead in its wake. It was the deadliest terroristic attack on US soil that the nation had seen up to that point.

okc bomb

Once the smoke cleared though, the choice was clear. We would not stand to be known by the evil of the tragedy, but by the fortitude with which we recovered. We chose to be known by the way we rose together, instead of by the way we momentarily got knocked down. That mindset, which comes naturally to Oklahomans, galvanized us to remember those lost, while also promising them that we would rise stronger than before. The possibilities were there, but the question was how would be we get there?

While the Metropolitan Area Projects Plan (MAPS) had already been approved for by the beginning of 1994, the bombing acted as a catalyst to make MAPS a rousing success. One of the things that MAPS brought with it was a state of the art arena called the Ford Center that could host concerts and sporting events, especially hockey and basketball. Opening in 2002, the Ford Center served its purpose hosting top notch concerts, preseason basketball games, and minor league hockey. Continue reading 5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings

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It Was All A Dream

“It was all a dream…” The opening line to “Juicy”, one of the greatest rap songs ever written. Christopher “Notorious B.I.G” Wallace’s opening salvo into our collective consciousness was, perhaps, the greatest conveyment of a musical rags-to-riches story. Great things always have a way of starting off small. Facebook started off as a social network for only Ivy League students and had the word ‘the’ in its original title. Microsoft started off as two friends who were great computer programmers. The Oklahoma City Thunder started off as a 23 win franchise that was in the running to be the worst team in league history for much of the season. But, oh, how things have changed. 

From a fan’s perspective, this was a celebration of the Thunder’s first trip to the NBA Finals. From the outside, this just looked like the finality of a four year run that started off very slow, but has been on a uphill trek ever since. But from the inside, this wasn’t just about the last 4 years. That collective cheer that you heard from the Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 06, 2012 at about 10:30 PM was a roar of passion. Passion, not only for the team, but for the state. A roar for ourselves. Not for each collective ‘me’, but instead, for the collective ‘we’. 

 When you are from Oklahoma, you always hark back to THAT day. April 19, 1995. The day innocence was ripped from the hearts of Oklahomans of all ages. The day we learned about evil and heartbreak. But, on April 20, 1995, we got up and started using a new vernacular. We started to live by words like RESILIENCY, COMMUNITY, SACRIFICE, TOGETHER, HUMILITY, HARDWORK. We knew the trek ahead was tough, but we knew it was a trek we would take together. 

If that wasn’t bad enough, 4 years later, the city was struck by what has been called the Monster of all tornadoes. An F5 tornado with multiple vortices, ripped through the southern part of Oklahoma City, destroying the suburb of Moore, Ok and the city of Bridge Creek, Ok. Once again, probably because of the hard lessons learned from the Murrah Building Bombing, we knew how to react to this tragedy and pulled together.  

City leaders, construction workers, politicians, and citizens all stepped up to the plate to improve the namesake city of the state. What was once a warehouse district was transformed into a sprawling entertainment district in the span of 20 years. With those improvements, came a 20,000 seat indoor sports arena originally known as the Ford Center. This would become the hub of our professional sports dream. 

Of course, with any dream, there are obstacles that stand in the way of achieving the ultimate goal. First, was the fact that we were the 44th largest TV market in the United States. While that sounds great in comparing it to the other 25,000 cities in the United States, that doesn’t bode well for any professional sports league looking for an expansion city. Secondly, was that fact that the professional sports leagues weren’t necessarily looking to expand at that time. The NBA last expanded in 2004, MLB in 1998, NFL in 2002, and the NHL in 2000. 

There’s a saying that goes, “When opportunities comes a’knocking, you better open the door.” When the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina happened in September 2005, the New Orleans Hornets were left with no place to play and hardly a populance to play for. Looking to lend a helping hand AND prove our worth as a big league city, Mayor Mick Cornett and city officials lobbied the NBA’s front office for the opportunity to host the Hornets for as long as necessary. While initially down playing the idea, the NBA decided to give Oklahoma City this opportunity of a lifetime and allow the Hornets to play at the Ford Center for what would eventually become 2 seasons. 

And Oklahoma City proved its worth, quickly growing a reputation as one of the loudest fan bases in the league for its adopted team. For those two seasons, the Hornets became synonymous with having a distinct home court advantage. It became OKC’s first foray into professional sports. Chris Paul won Rookie of the Year in his first season in OKC and David West became a burgeoning All-Star. Tyson Chandler became known as one of the best defensive big men in the league and Peja Stojakovic became known as one of the biggest free agency busts in his one season in OKC. And after two seasons, the music stopped. 

It was a bit disappointing when the Hornets left. Its like being in a 2-year relationship with someone that still had ties to their ex, and then being single again when your significant other goes back to their ex. We always knew the Hornets were going back to New Orleans, but the hope of them some how staying in OKC long-term was still in the back of most our minds. But this was no time to hold our heads down. Their was another opportunity to be had, and another team in the horizon. 

Regardless of what you think of the way OKC got the Thunder, the fact still remained that as of July 2008, the Seattle Supersonics ceased to exist and the Oklahoma City Thunder came into existence. Civic pride will make you argue the move until you are blue (Thunder blue, of course) in the face, but Oklahoma City had its team and it was time to show and prove. That first season was brutal, though. We knew we were getting a skeleton crew of a team with some young, unproven talent, but we didn’t know it was going to be this bad. 

The morning after another of our home losses, I called to the local morning sports talk radio show and just vented. I didn’t know if I could do this anymore. Living 90 miles from OKC and having to drive more than an hour each way, made driving back from the mounting losses excruciating. It’s almost like the team was stuck in a rut when it first got here and you had to wonder whether there wasn’t some karmic justice at play at how we had obtained the team. Thankfully, a coaching change and the general improvement of the young players led to a good finish and a hope for the next season. 

We all know what has happened the last two seasons. After a meteoric rise in their second season in OKC, the Thunder made the playoffs as an 8th seed and took the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers to the brink of a 7th game in a riveting first round series. The team’s young stars (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook) went on to be the main components for a Team USA squad that won gold in the 2010 World Championships. In the next season, we finished with the 4th seed and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, losing in a close 5-game series to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. Suffice to say, expectations were definitely mounting.

Finally this year, in a season that was on the brink of not happening at all due to labor strife, the team exerted its dominance on most of the league and finished with the 2nd seed in the West. Two things became apparent as we marched towards this point. Number 1: This team was mature beyond its years and eschewed the notion that youth has to wait. Number 2: The home crowd was actually beginning to affect the play of the young Thunder. 

While last season, the Thunder players were the ones being criticized in the postseason, it was our turn, as fans, to be criticized this postseason. It started when the organization began playing games on the huge jumbotron TV outside of the stadium. What became famously known as Thunder Alley started as a small gathering (1000-2000) of fans that could not get tickets to the game, but wanted to experience, first-hand, the atmosphere of being at the playoff game. Eventually that small gathering turned into an all-out block party that some reports say reached as high as 10,000 + spectators in Thunder Alley. When you get that many people in a small space, bad things are bound to happen. Violence erupted after the clinching game of the 2nd round, and the postseason form of Thunder Alley was shut down. It is pretty sad when real fans have to suffer at the expense of a couple knuckleheads. Some people aren’t fortunate enough to be able to afford playoff tickets, but still want to be in the playoff atmosphere. 

Then there were the complaints that we actually wear our free t-shirts that the team supplies to each fan during playoff games. The travesty that fans would wear those shirts and cheer together as one. Who does that? Who cheers every great play and jeers every questionable call? I thought this was the norm for fans. I thought it was par for the course. But, just like everything else, we do things just a little different. We actually feel emotionally attached to our team. I saw grown men and women crying tears of joy for our trip to the Finals. People from the outside will never understand. As we venture into the unknown world of the NBA Finals, we will move forward the only way we know how: Together as one team. #TeamIsOne

The Great Unknown:Growing as a Fanbase

Let’s imagine a scenario. You go on a blind date with this girl (or guy, you make the scenario fit to your liking). When you finally meet her, you think, “Hey, she’s easy on the eyes.” The first date is exciting, but ultimately ends a little awkwardly. She has a youthful grace about her, but can be a little immature at times. Everything goes well enough, though, that you both agree to another date. You continue to date for that month, but you constantly think about what your ex is doing and how you guys had better chemistry. The dates are good; some end up great, some disappointing. But there’s enough of a spark to continue dating. 

The next month things get even better. You start to hang out more and there are less and less “weird” moments. She even reveals to you that she trained as a world class chef before taking on her current job. She invites you over for a couple dates at her house to try out her culinary skills, and needless to say, she has “skillz”. The girl can throw down in the kitchen, and you know the saying referencing a man’s heart and his stomach. All those thoughts about your ex start to fade away and become non-existent. 

In the 3rd month of dating, you feel like you are ready to make this an exclusive relationship. There are less dates and more time together. You start to synchronize your schedules to have more time together. You start to want to hang out with this girl. Then she gives you the surprise of your life and buys you a brand new sports car. You start to turn it down, but she insists that she has been saving up a lot of money and needs to spend it for “tax” purposes. The L-word even starts to get tossed around playfully.  

In the 4th month, you hit a little hiccup in the beginning of the month. You bicker back and forth about “young-relationship” things. You begin to wonder whether you are even going to continue the relationship. But alas, you work through it and hopefully come out stronger in the end. And, this is where you are currently at. 

For the past two months, she has surprised you with something big. You begin to wonder what she has in store for you this month. Then you realize how selfish that sounds. You have a great girl that has given of her heart in the short time you two have been together and now you are expecting something from her. You begin to see that you have been spoiled, and, just maybe, to the detriment of your ethics and expectations. You realize that you have devalued the past and the present with the expectations of the future. 

Now, before you become concerned and think that my sports blog has turned into a self help or relationship blog, please realize that I used this scenario as an analogy. Change the word girl to team (namely the Oklahoma City Thunder) and change the word month to season. There you have Oklahoma City’s relationship with the Thunder in our 4 short years together. And I mean it when I say that we have been completely and utterly spoiled.

 Oklahoma City’s situation has been so rare and unique that it is really difficult to find something comparable. First off, OKC had a tryout, of sorts, with the two seasons the Hornets played at the Ford Center after Hurricane Katrina. We proved that OKC was a viable market and took advantage of our surprising opportunity. This is back when we weren’t spoiled. This is back when we were a hungry market yearning for attention and respectability. 

After a year hiatus from the NBA, we took full advantage when the Thunder came rumbling to town, selling out our season tickets in record time, and showing up in droves to the games. Then we realized we had a crappy team. Young, but still crappy, nonetheless. We longed for the days of the ever-improving Hornets who were quickly becoming the darlings of the Western Conference. But we stuck with it and started seeing results in the 2nd half of the season. At this point, we were still building a relationship with our new team. 

That improvement from the 2nd half of the previous season continued into the 2nd season, where the Thunder finally took off and never looked back. They more than doubled their win total and made it into the playoffs, pushing the eventual champs to an unexpectedly tough 6 game series. We applauded our team and cheered them on, but always kept wondering when the other shoe was going to drop on our fairy tale story. At this point we were enjoying our successes, but wondering how fragile they are. 

During that summer between our 2nd and 3rd seasons, we were overjoyed to see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of our players, represent the country in their pre-Olympic tournament in which they were belittled by their own country’s media (“B-team”) and expected not to medal. Instead, led by the two Thunder players, the team took home the gold with nary a blemish on their record. We, as a fan base, puffed out our collective chests and walked around with pride in preparation for the next season. 

Heading into the 3rd season, expectations were high, not only locally, but also nationally. With a big move at the trading deadline, the Thunder did not disappoint making it all the way to the Western Conference finals losing to the eventual NBA champs. Fans were beginning to become accustomed to winning because it is all they had known with this franchise. 

Presently, the team sits tied for the best record in the league at the half-way point in a strike shortened season. We’ve seen Kevin Durant be named All Star game MVP, while Russell Westbrook performed exceedingly well in the same game. But what should be a feeling of joy and accomplishment is sometimes flipped into a feeling of anger and disgust whenever we do actually lose a game. It’s almost like we are expecting to win every game, while at the same time, expecting the clock to strike 12 and for this team to turn back into a big ugly pumpkin with some scurrying mice. 

Are we spoiled? Hell yeah we’re spoiled. Our track record has been nothing but an upward trend. In a league that is cyclical in terms of team success, we’ve been a straight line in the positive direction. But, can you be spoiled, and still be appreciative of what you are watching? That’s what worries me about this fan base. What’s going to happen to it when we hit our first big bump in the road? 

We’re an extremely young fan base that has grown with this team. You can say that we have experienced bumps in the road with the losses in the playoffs. But, expansion teams and rebuilding teams go through years of futility before they finally start to see the fruits of their labor. We haven’t had to go through the years of futility. We had one horrible year and the rest have been magical. My only fear is what happens when making it to the playoffs isn’t magical anymore. 

And don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to be a Debbie-downer (or is it a Dreary-Dougie?). I love and respect our fan base to no end. Many media pundits have called us the best home crowd in the league. And I agree whole-heartedly, as I’m one of the crazies screaming my ass off in the middle of the 2nd quarter. But, in taking in the last 3 ½ seasons, I want something malleable that I can compare it to. They say that history repeats itself, but sometimes it’s scary when you are the one making the history. I don’t know how this story will end and that’s the exciting part about all of this. We are the archetypes when it comes to a franchise that had to move while rebuilding and experienced quick success as soon as it arrived at its new location. With that said, let’s continue on with our magical season. There is still much to be written in this story.