Tag Archives: NHL

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

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Occupy NBA: How Twitter helped the fans have a voice in this lockout.

In watching some of the pointless Occupy ____(insert city)____ protests that have gone on for the past month and a half, I have sometimes wondered what it would look like if NBA fans staged their own Occupy NBA protest during the lockout. Would we march at the hotel that the players’ union and owners were meeting at in New York? Or at NBA HQ in New York? Or at the court house in Minnesota where the anti-trust lawsuits would be taking place at? Instead of hippies and out of work yuppies, I could see a whole bunch of middle-aged men with their basketball jerseys on, dribbling basketballs throughout the parking lot. I could see young men trucking in portable goals and holding 3 on 3 tournaments in protest of the lockout. I could see someone bringing out a boombox and jamming to John Tesh’s Roundball Rock. But alas, that takes too much time and money to protest like that, and NBA fans have to do something to pay for the season tickets and NBA League Pass that they have. Instead, NBA fans protested in a new manner. They took their protesting to Twitter. And you know what, it actually had an impact. 

Twitter and the NBA is a match made in heaven. In all of the sport leagues, NBA players are the most accessible. They don’t wear helmets so it’s easy to see and recognize the players. They don’t have heavy armor on, so it’s easy for fans to try and dissect the meaning of their tattoos and get deeper into the psyche of that player. Because of this, NBA fans develop more of a connection, whether real or fantasized, with players than do the fans of other sports leagues. I love the Oklahoma Sooners football team, but I couldn’t pick their center, Ben Habern, out of a lineup if I tried. But I could recognize Minnesota’s back up center (Nikola Pekovic) in a crowded mall if I saw him. 

Another thing that is instantly recognizable about the NBA and its players through Twitter, is that they are all friends. The basketball culture is completely different than the football culture and the baseball culture. Because these players have been playing together in AAU and cross country camps for the better part of their high school careers, there develops a strong common bond that unites these players together as they move on in their respective basketball journeys. And it becomes very apparent on Twitter, as players from different teams communicate with each other more often then they they probably do with their own mothers. 

When you add the fact that fans can now actually communicate with your favorite players, that brings NBA fandom to another level. So, it was only a matter of time before NBA fans would take to Twitter to a) express their displeasure with the lockout or b) express their support to the players. Most players dismissed anything the fans said, but some players, Thunder center Nazr Mohammed, in particular, took to the Twitter-waves to quell any misunderstandings and explain to fans exactly what the players had given up and why they were fighting so hard. For a while, this actually worked in the players’ favor, as they were getting most of the public sentiment. But as the lockout dragged on, fans, and even some players, grew more and more frustrated, and took to the Twitter-waves to express that angst. 

But not only were fans and players able to use Twitter to express their feelings, basketball sportswriters also became primetime commodities during the lockout, especially when there was a meeting between the two sides happening. What used to be interesting tidbits that would appear in books written 10 years after an event, became instant news once it happens (i.e. Dwayne Wade’s blow-up against David Stern, Stern going home with the flu, Michael Jordan going all Scarface on the players that adored him and playing “the bad guy”, the players’ “STAND” shirts, etc.). Howard Beck, David Aldridge, Marc Stein, Larry Coon, and Chris Sheridan all became my new best friends every time the two sides had one of their meetings. These sportswriters provided a riveting play by play of legal negotiations as they were happening. They gave the back drops to what was going on, like who stepped out and why they stepped out. I, for one, took it all in. I was entranced by these negotiations and found myself almost wanting the lockout to continue so that I could “hear” the play by play of the negotiations by the sportswriters. Plus it was fun to hear FalseHoop and his followers come up with #ReasonsForLongLockoutMeeting. 

This all led to instant fan reaction. There was no need for sportswriters to put up surveys or take polls. The pulse of the fans was on full display, live and direct, with their tweets of displeasure and support. After each meeting that ended in disappointment, the pulse of the fans became more and more frustrated. Even worse for the NBA, some of the fans were becoming more and more apathetic. Don’t discount for a second the impact this had on Stern and the owners. With all the talk of a nuclear winter, the NBA did not want to turn into the NHL and have to play games on ION or SiTV when they came back a year or two later. Instead, they went back to the table, made a couple concessions, made the players feel better, and came to an agreement. And guess where I heard it first…….on Twitter.

Seeds of Discord

There are two reasons for sending out a state of the union letter. The first reason is to inform your constituents of your progress and where you stand as a whole. This is the reason the President holds a State of the Union address at least 2 – 3 times a year. It allows the citizens to be a part of the process/progress. The second reason to send out a State of the Union letter to quell any feelings of discord or doubt. The back to back letters sent out by union President Derek Fisher and Executive Director Billy Hunter on consecutive days should be seen as more of a plead for unity than an informational guide to the progress/process of the labor negotiations.

 In surprising fashion, the most important person in these labor negotiations has become FOXSports.com columnist Jason Whitlock. His article about Derek Fisher’s backdoor wheelings and dealings has sent the player’s union into a damage control frenzy. Stephen A. Smith has also said that what Whitlock wrote in his article is basically true. If anything, even if this story is not entirely true, there still is some truth to it. Unfortunately, the seeds of discord have already been spread and the damage has been done.

Within the past 24 hours, the divide between players has become very evident. This morning, Boston Celtics free agent Glen “Big Baby” Davis tweeted , “Take the 51% man and let’s play.” Houston Rockets swingman Terrance Williams tweeted, “Hey @TheNBPA Let’s play BALL enough with the stare off”. Recent reports have said that Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant have both indicated that they would take a 50/50 split. On the other side of things, Oklahoma City Thunder big man Nazr Mohammed tweeted, “Since I have @NBA & @NBA_Labor’s ear…Why can’t y’all come up to 52.5% since we already gave in 100’s of millions & on system issues?” A later tweet by Mohammed stated, “Don’t know what the percentage will be but I’m willing to #StandUnited with my union cuz players b4 me did it when I was a rookie. #OnlyFair”.

Another thing that lends credence to the fact that there may be discord among Fisher and Hunter is what’s at stake for both of them. Hunter’s legacy is on the line as this seems to be his last hurrah as union Executive Director. He may be reelected to lead the union into their next labor negotiations in 6 – 10 years, but with how much the union has given up in these negotiations, that does not seem so certain. Hunter is trying to get the best deal possible (52.5%) to lessen the blow the owners are trying to place on the players. On the other hand, Derek Fisher is still a player, and at the bottom of his core, probably wants to do everything possible to get this thing done and play ball. Fisher is on his last leg as far as his playing career is concerned and the Lakers are still one of the favorites to contend for a championship.

It is pretty fascinating to see the middle to lower tier younger players start to bite their nails at the prospect of missing paychecks, while the older veteran players (who have, more than likely, been saving up for this day) are pressuring all the players to stay united and stay the course. Add to that, the dialoging in the media by the NHL players who suffered through a lost season and a lost season’s worth of pay, while coming out on the other side of the lockout in a much worse position than when the lockout started.

The cracks and fissures are starting to become chasms. The quiet whisper of discord is starting to become a booming roar. Eventually the person with the most money, usually wins the battle. The owners are billionaires whose income is not solely dependant on the ownership of their teams. The players, on the other hand, are completely dependent on the paycheck that comes from playing the game of basketball. The most important meeting of this labor negotiation has yet to occur. Many people think the most important meetings of this labor negotiation happened within the last two weeks. The truth is that the most important meeting of these labor negotiations will come on Thursday, when the players’ union meets to discuss their next plan of attack.