Congratulations are in order. Thunder-haters, you’re the MVP this week. Haters might be a strong word to use, but make no mistake, there are those that have been waiting to see Sam Presti, Clay Bennet and company get what they so richly deserve.
Any former Sonic fan living in Seattle let out an enormous cheer when Kevin Durant announced he and his brand were leaving for Oakland. (Seriously, when is the last time a major sports star wanted to go to Oakland?) You can’t blame them; loyal Sonics fans are still reeling from losing their team nine years ago, and since a flirtation with the Sacramento Kings fell short. If you have a heart, you almost feel sorry for them.
It’s the person who has had so much anger and frustration toward the Thunder here in Oklahoma City that makes you want to scratch your head. When I first got here three years ago, I couldn’t wait to cover my first Thunder game. The chance to get close to a major league team with the added bonus of being 30-miles up the road from my hometown.
The Thunder had just come off a loss in the Western Conference Semifinals to the Memphis Grizzlies, but Russell Westbrook suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opening playoff round due to the dirty play of “that bastard” Patrick Beverly. There was a reason to be excited; if Westbrook was healthy OKC could make a run to the finals.
On arrival, it wasn’t hard to find those in Oklahoma City who were hoping to see the Thunder’s demise. This city had not only landed a top-level professional team; they had already been to the NBA finals. And despite the loss of James Harden, there was legitimate chance there could be a Championship banner hanging from the Peak if all stayed intact. Logic would say everyone was benefiting from the Thunder’s success. Not, so as it turns out.
People had a problem – with Scott Brooks coaching or lack thereof, lack of access to players, the “style” of Sam Presti – the way he ran the team, his glasses and his long-winded answers in press conferences that seemed to go nowhere. The Thunder, its colors, its logo and focus on the Thunder “family” were all under attack right in its back yard.
Some of these complaints are legitimate; it would be nice to have Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, or even Kyle Singler do regular radio hits. It humanizes them to fans, plus it gives you a sense that the organization focuses on its home city. When you see Westbrook on Stephen Colbert’s show and hear KD do an hour with Spike Lee on XM radio, it’s easy to understand why fans and local media would get frustrated. For a little perspective, though – having just come from a market where the only game in town was second tier college sports teams with an athletic department bent on dictating the message by a guerilla-style management of access and intimidation, the Thunder were a breath of fresh air. I can’t tell you how nice it is to be critical of a team and not get text messages during my show from an upset athletic director trying to get me to change my opinion. It’s all about perspective. As for the uniforms, colors, logo, etc… that seems nitpicky. The only complaint I have is the words “Oklahoma City” are not on the home uniforms as well as the away uniforms.
Scott Brooks did get let go as some wanted; then the complaints started that Billy Donovan was not the replacement they were looking for – but all this guy did was get OKC one win away from another trip to the NBA Finals. Still not good enough to keep Durant here, but I’m not sure that anything would have accomplished that based on recent revelations. In the end, a lot of organizations would have loved to have traded places with the Thunder, and that has to count for something.
Maybe the silver lining in the events that transpired this week will result in more of an open door policy between the Thunder and the media. Maybe it results in a whole new crop of players that the fans can embrace as family. Depending on how far the loss of KD sets the organization back, maybe everyone involved – the team, the media, and the fans – will all realize just how good they have it.