OKLAHOMA CITY — The summer of 2019 is one of the more tumultuous off-seasons in Thunder history — a franchise that has had plenty of them in just over a decade of existence. Losing an All-Star in Paul George and the icon himself, Russell Westbrook, would doom almost any team or city.
But this is Oklahoma City we’re talking about. This is a city that bounced back from domestic terrorism. This is sports town that has thrust itself into the basketball zeitgeist in perhaps the NBA’s most popular decade in its history.
The question would remain — how exactly would the fan base react to a sudden pivot of expectations? Would the loss of the beloved Westbrook influence an equivalent loss in fan enthusiasm?
Four home games into the season, and the fans are still coming. Chesapeake Energy Arena hasn’t been full, but the energy remains with a few hundred empty seats in Loud City. Games against the LA teams, Golden State and Russell Westbrook’s return will certainly be the can’t miss tickets in town.
Fan attendance shouldn’t be a concern. But how will those lesser expectations affect the fan base moving forward?
I reached out to a few of the more famous Thunder fans. First up is Billy Martin — rhythm guitarist and keyboardist for the band Good Charlotte. You remember who they are. Billy was kind enough to answer some questions while he and his wife vacationed in California.
The Franchise: Where does the Thunder fandom come from?
Billy Martin: My wife grew up in OKC. We’ve been together for almost 20 years. So I’ve been visiting OKC for a long time and we have lots of family there. I’ve always been a huge NBA fan. I grew up near Baltimore, so we kind of had the Wizards but DC teams are never really “home” teams in (Maryland). So when OKC got its first team I decided that would be my team. Having no idea they would draft (Kevin) Durant, Westbrook and (James) Harden and become one of the most exciting young teams in the league!
TF: Is it hard to see Russell Westbrook in a Rockets jersey?
BM: Of course it is! I’m not mad at Russ, I will continue to follow and support him. I hope he gets a ring I just wish it would’ve been in a Thunder Jersey.
TF: Are there any fellow musicians who give you shit for being a Thunder fan?
BM: Good Charlotte’s bass player, Paul (Thomas) lives in Oakland. So we’ve had a nice Thunder/Warriors rivalry for a while. I have bonded with tons of other musicians over their love of basketball. Everyone has their team so it’s fun to give each other shit about that. My guitar picks have a GC on one side and Westbrook snarling on the other side so anyone we tour with knows. Looks like I have to change my picks now.
TF: How are your expectations different for this season?
BM: Obviously title contender isn’t really in the books like it has been. The team has some serious young talent potential and I don’t think they are going to suck. I don’t think I could handle a tank season. I’m glad they tried to assemble the best team they could with what was left. The Thunder always surprises people and expect that with this squad as well.
TF: Do you trust Sam Presti to rebuild the team back to a playoff/title contender?
BM: I do. He clearly has a gift for spotting talent. He drafted 3 MVPs and none were 1st overall picks. I honestly think they will be back on track sooner than later.
TF: If you wrote a song about one Thunder player, who would it be?
BM: A broken hearted love song about Westbrook leaving. Then again Steven Adams is quite the character, I’m sure there is a song in there somewhere!
TF: Who is the young player you are paying extra attention to as a fan?
BM: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is gonna be a superstar. I can’t wait to see what he is going to become. (Darius) Bazley seems very promising as well. (Hamidou) Diallo has shown flashes of greatness too! So much young talent and I think that’s what is keeping us Thunder fans excited!
Special thanks to Billy for taking the time to answer my questions while his lovely wife drove him from Arizona to California. Cheers!
Brady Trantham has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder for The Franchise since April 2018 and for Thunder Digest since 2016. He hosts a Thunder podcast with Madysson Morris “OKC-82 Podcast” which can be found on all podcast outlets, and is a featured co-host on the Franchise Thunder Insider’s Show on Saturdays from 10-12. For Sooner fans, you can also listen to the “Inside OU” podcast with John Hoover, Rufus Alexander and Brady. Brady is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma class of 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BradyDoesSports