It’s Friday night in Oklahoma City. Sheridan Avenue is dark. Sidewalks down Reno are mostly empty. Traffic is light all over. The arena that’s still called the Ford Center is empty and lifeless. And there’s not anything anywhere that’s blue or has the word “thunder” on it.
Bricktown’s bars have gathered a few patrons, but most of the downtown action is at the movie theater and Bass Pro where people are getting in some last minute Christmas shopping. That big new Devon skyscraper? It’s still a big empty plot.
Some good news though: There’s no ridiculous amount of road construction. But it doesn’t matter because not enough people are downtown to make a big problem.
There’s not much to do on this night other than maybe do that outdoor ice skating thing that got old seven years ago. Or maybe there’s a minor league hockey game. Doesn’t that just sound like so much fun?!
Bricktown’s not Bedford Falls. It’s Pottersville and it sucks.
This is what Oklahoma City would be without the Thunder. This would be your town on Friday night.
I started picturing Bricktown as George Bailey’s life during a recent Friday night as my wife and I arrived early for a Thunder game. We were walking around, doing what married couples often do (“Where do you want to eat?” “I don’t care, you pick.” “Seriously, I don’t care either.”) when I thought about what downtown and Bricktown might look like if the Thunder weren’t here.
It was clear that a large portion of the people that crowded bars, caused 45-minute waits at restaurants, filled sidewalks and made traffic excruciatingly frustrating were there for the Thunder’s big Friday night game.
And I was psyched about all that.
All of the ridiculous construction around Reno is because of the team. The new skyscraper can be linked to one of the Thunder’s corporate partners expanding its brand and company. The arena isn’t called the Ford Center anymore because the team is so visible now that the organization’s asking price for the naming rights were a little above what Ford was willing to pay.
Without this team, a Friday night in the big town might be a quite a bit more bland. People would still go down to the canal (who does that by the way?) and to see movies, but I know for sure we wouldn’t have spent any money in Bricktown that night if the Thunder hadn’t brought us there.
Plus, there’s a raised level of civic pride because the team. There’s blue everywhere, with “Let’s Go Thunder!” banners hanging from almost every shop window. There’s a buzz circulating all over and I’m pretty sure that would be missing. Well, not pretty sure. Absolutely sure.
The Thunder have done a lot of things – created a ton of goodwill, given us an extra entertainment option, increased OKC’s profile, brought Kevin Durant into our lives and a lot of other things – but one of the best things they’ve done is make downtown relevant for reasons outside of a movie theater, bars and Bass Pro.
Extending this metaphor to the furthest possible length, I guess the best way to top this all off would be for all the Thunder’s friends and family to gather for one glorious celebration as we sing “Hark the Herald” as the city’s first championship banner is raised. It would certainly be a different Oklahoma City without this basketball team. With them, it’s a Thunderful life.