During the DT Party last Friday night, I got into an interesting discussion with regular commenter Osano-Whoa about how he had previously never really followed basketball or the NBA all that much and felt like it was pretty cool how he and many other fans were growing in the game alongside the Thunder’s young nucleus when it came to the finer points of the game of basketball and the NBA’s unique nuances as well.
The reason this struck me as something noteworthy is because I personally have always watched the NBA as long as I can remember (I think a certain #23 pretty much cemented my love of the game back in the 80′s and 90′s during my formative hoop years) and so this experience of someone’s eyes being opened to an entirely new existence of sport and professional competition seemed pretty special to me as well because I think we can all remember back to a time when we were first handed a ball (either seamed, pigskin, round, etc) and took our first step into that joyful experience of playing a game that we love.
But despite there being a difference between individuals who have watched the NBA for quite awhile and people who only started once the Thunder (or even Hornets) arrived, there is one thing that neither group has experienced: Playoff basketball. And even though I run the risk of jinxing this team, with only 24 games remaining left to play and the Thunder sporting a 5 game lead over the 9th place New Orleans Hornets, this new experience of sport SHOULD be on the horizon and in the Thunder’s future.
And yet again, this is an experience that both the young core of players and the fans will go through together–for the first time. Perhaps this is why so many Thunder fans feel personally responsible for protecting individual players on this team or maybe even letting their own fan-hood biases get the best of them and over-hype certain players because, realistically, these players are all we’ve known when it comes to having a personal commitment and a hometown team to root for, to support and to invest ourselves into over the course of a season.
I’m not exactly sure what to make of this almost seemingly symbiotic relationship between a young team and a young fan base trying to figure out the NBA game together over an incredibly short year and a half span, nor do I have any inkling about what the potential playoff experience holds for either group as well. Could it be a sweep at the hands of the Lakers or Nuggets? Perhaps. Could it be a nail-biting, back and forth series against a Dallas or Utah team who ultimately overcomes a young and defensive minded Thunder team? Maybe.
But it is the unknown, the possibility that anything could happen that intrigues me most because when it really comes down to it, we have no idea what to expect going forward. We’ve never been here before and certainly never expected to be here on the precipice of a potential playoff seed so soon. And it is that “anything is possible” anthem that KG so heroically screamed after finally grasping his first taste of championship glory that reverberates throughout the entire NBA landscape come April.
Sure, there are but a handful of teams that actually have the talent, coaching and collection of players to compete for a championship. And over a seven game series these teams almost always are the ones who survive and move on to the next round.
But that’s the best part about the playoffs: almost always. Remember Golden State?
Remember that young and spunky team who had ABSOLUTELY no business hanging with the Mavs but just didn’t know any better? Who didn’t know how crazy and unrealistic it was for them to really believe that they had a shot to advance because they had never experienced a moment like that first tip-off in Game 1?
Well neither have the Thunder’s players. They don’t know any better. In fact, you can see that even now. They just don’t know how absurd it is for a 23 win team to be on pace to double their win total in one season without adding any significant pieces to the roster. And it’s clear that most Thunder fans don’t either. They don’t know what to think or where to realistically put a cap on this year’s ceiling because, well, this has already surpassed pre-season expectations and we just don’t quite know where to go from here.
And that’s why this next month and a half of basketball should be and could be one of the most exciting sports’ timelines that this area and young fan base has ever seen because for the very first time for most Thunder fans, a professional team is slated to make a postseason appearance and that means that the Oklahoma City metro, the state of Oklahoma, the throngs of Thunder fans across the world (yes, just go back and reread where a lot of posters and readers of the DT live if you don’t believe me) and the ESPECIALLY the Ford Center itself will host an electric atmosphere that many of us have seen elsewhere, viewed vicariously through other fan bases and sold out arenas but never witnessed ourselves, never experienced with our team.
And it is an atmosphere that we are to create. An electric landscape that we select few fans in attendance will be given a brush to paint.
That is why with a month and a half still left to play, I can’t help but remember what Osano-Whoa said to sum up his thoughts on this unique opportunity to grow in the game alongside a young team that has exceeded all expectations and stands on the brink of bringing a fan base alongside it into one of the most exciting avenues in sport: “I just feel really lucky and fortunate.”
He’s not alone.
And no matter what the future may hold come playoff time, whether it’s a broom or a shocking upset, I just can’t wait to go along with this team for the ride.