Chapter One: a Thunder era past, a spot at the table, and an inferiority complex

 

I hear about it everywhere I go. Partly because it’s what I want to hear, but also because it’s what everybody is talking about.

“Can you believe Kawhi held the league up like that? He changed the course of, like, three franchises!”

Or,

“Paul George isn’t catching nearly enough flack for screwing the Thunder over.”

Or,

“Russ and Harden? 100% chance they try to launch each other into the sun in under two years.”

And so on.

People love the NBA. It reaches across boundaries — gender, race, religion, class — unlike any other American sport. There’s no “average” NBA fan, partly because it attracts so many people, but maybe more importantly, it reaches different kinds of people. Go to a game and see for yourself. 

And, other than soccer, which is played on a worldwide scale, there’s really no other competition in sport in terms of universality. It’s popular, and OKC is right in the thick of it.

None of this is program-thumping propaganda trying to prove that my favorite sport is better than yours. I can’t imagine a bigger waste of your time or mine. I simply want to point out that having NBA basketball is a tremendous privilege.

What a gift it is that we in Oklahoma can see all of this unfold with our very own eyes. And what a great boon it is that this state, so often an afterthought, has a seat at the table. Woven into the fabric of a globally appreciated product.


To say that some Oklahomans have an inferiority complex is to (ironically) sell it short. I can say that because I’ve lived here for 25 years. How else can you explain picking a fight with the entire state of Texas? It hurts to be looked down on, especially if it’s undeserved. ‘Okie’ used to be a derogatory term. Explaining this all would take another article, if not an entire book. (READ BOOM TOWN)

The Thunder’s title window, now shut, is already viewed unfavorably as a giant squandered opportunity. And that’s fair — they should have won at least one ring. But if a championship is your barometer for NBA success, then only a small fraternity of players and teams will meet your lofty expectations.

The things that Oklahomans should be known for, like kindness and resilience, were and still are routinely passed over for hollow pity and easy punchlines. The Thunder have acted as a salve that helped ease that pain.

At the Thunder’s apex, Oklahoma was a joke to nobody. 

Although Sam Presti insists we call it a ‘renovation’ rather than a ‘rebuild,’ Thunder fans can see the plain writing on the wall. No team trades its two biggest stars and comes back right away. Inferior once again. 

But the future seems bright, and Presti and co. did, in my opinion, a great job of playing the cards they were dealt. How inferior can you really be to have something only a handful of other cities can claim? That would still be true if the Thunder weren’t asset rich, but they have quite the stable as a result of the recent tumult. 

Before the NBA came to OKC in 2008, Oklahoma being mentioned in the news was rarely a good thing. Tornadoes and the Oklahoma City bombing were the only reference points many had to the city and state at large — acts of God and man respectively. Not great to be known for.

Now, Thunder jerseys emblazoned with ‘OKC’ logos are regularly broadcast to viewers in real time worldwide. In a matter of seconds, images and videos from before, during, and after the game are posted on social media and shared hundreds of times per second. 

Oklahoma, imperfect as it has always been, has come a long way in the perception of the country and the world. And perception is everything.

The prospect of trying to catch lightning in a bottle seems grim — finding a way to bring in another slew of hall of famers. Fans have grown accustomed to seeing a relatively high level of basketball, even though it never did reach the heights they dreamed of.

It will be tough. There will be bad basketball. But maybe a new identity is to be found and celebrated together. And it will likely be all the sweeter for having waited.

The NBA is one of the biggest things going, and its ascent in large part has coincided with the introduction of pro basketball in Oklahoma City. Oklahomans have had a first row seat to an increasingly global phenomenon.

Enjoy it and take it for what it is. Or don’t. Regardless, you have to appreciate that the Oklahoma City Thunder carved out a consequential chapter in the book of basketball. As it stands, they’ve just completed the first chapter in their own book with much more yet to write.

 

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