IT’S OKAY WITH OKC: FANS LOYALTY
The relationship between Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder fans has become one of unity after Westbrook signed a long extension in the midst of Durant’s departure last summer.
According to Mayor Mick Cornett, Oklahoma City is a viable location to house an NBA franchise. Back in 2005, Cornett allowed for a New Orleans Hornets team who had posted the NBA’s second-worst record to use his city as a shelter after Hurricane Katrina inflicted wreckage upon the Big Easy.
“I’ve been trying all along to get a tenant for our sports arena. It was built for an NBA or NHL team,” said Cornett, in reference to the Ford Center, which was built in 2002.
There was an excitement in the city as there was no telling how long it would take to rebuild New Orleans and its image as a haven for a major sports franchise, let alone an NBA franchise which seemed to be rebuilding itself. The irony was too perfect.
With the fourth selection in the 2005 NBA draft, the Hornets had brought aboard Wake Forest standout Chris Paul. He purchased a house in New Orleans with his brother and expected that NOLA would be the city he would represent for the foreseeable future. But then, Hurricane Katrina ripped through his new hometown, devastating circumstances arose, and Paul’s new team, the Hornets, were in need of a place to play their home games.
NBA Commissioner, at that time, David Stern, had to react quickly yet orderly to this location issue. He eventually allowed for Oklahoma City to be the city which hosted the Hornets. Understanding that the city was able to financially support a major sports franchise.
So, the jerseys were sewn up. As the team that had originally worn the iconic blue and purple during their long history in Charlotte, the New Orleans Hornets had only been draped in their blue and yellow clothing choice for three years. Now, the team had to show love to the city that adopted them. Instead of playing in the blue and yellow jerseys as a tribute to their fallen city, the Hornets decided to pay respects to their new location. The sleeveless tops read “Oklahoma City” in the plainest of fashions. In all red uniforms the Hornets played for their step-city.
According to statistics by dougloudenback.com, on average attendance was 18,718 for home games played in Oklahoma City. In front of these fans, Chris Paul won Rookie of the Year. At the time, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer David Aldridge picked up on the impact the city had on the success of the Hornets’ new guard.
“Support has come from all economic sectors of the city, which is stocked with big companies in the oil and energy businesses as well as such companies as Lopez Foods, one of the country's largest Latino-owned firms. The Hornets have already sold more than 10,000 season tickets in Oklahoma City, putting them in the top 10 league-wide,” Aldridge stated.
After a brief two season stint, the Hornets moved back to New Orleans, a city that had in that time received an NFL Super Bowl trophy from the hometown Saints efforts. The city was presumably on the up and up. But a now-vacant Oklahoma City had tasted the thrill of having an NBA franchise to call their own. In far-off Seattle, Sonics owner Clay Bennett was aware of the opportunity. Allegedly, Bennett had promised former owner Howard Schultz to try to keep the Sonics in Seattle. But, having witnessed the support of the city of Oklahoma City, the opportunity to move the franchise was one to contemplate.
“The NBA will be in Oklahoma City next season, playing their games,” Bennett stated, even with the settlement of $45 million immediately to Seattle plus the looming $30 million dollar fine if the city of Seattle did not get a new team within five years.
The Sonics, the season before, had just drafted their potential-superstar in Kevin Durant. A new face for the Oklahoma City fans to embrace. And a new name – the Thunder. For a franchise who had seen the likes of Gary Payton, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Charles Barkley, and Shawn Kemp, the Sonics faithful would have to support another change in personnel, sporting new jerseys, playing in a new city, and a complete rebuild of identity. The Supersonics of old were now the Thunder of new.
Now, years later, Kevin Durant, with a failed nickname in the Durantula, has left for the Golden State Warriors, leaving a brightly shining organization in disarray. Was there loyalty in the NBA anymore? That’s when nine-year veteran Russell Westbrook stood up. He was reluctant nor did he hesitate to show his loyalty. He signed a five year contract to stay in the city has stuck by him through multiple trade rumors. He has given the OKC crowd a lot to cheer for, this year especially. Westbrook is on pace to average a triple double over an entire NBA season. A feat last accomplished by Oscar Robertson during the 1961-1962 season.
The Thunder sit at seventh in the Western Conference with 25 games remaining, in need of nothing but support from a crowd who was brought a franchise believed to have the ability to thrive in Oklahoma City. The NBA Trade Deadline has passed. The last second departures of Cameron Payne, Anthony Morrow, and Joffrey Lauvergne, and the arrival of Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson shake up the chemistry of a team in the shadows of the West. The biggest question falls under one category – Support.