The Denver crowd lustily booed Serge Ibaka when he pounded his chest Saturday after big plays in the Pepsi Center. Russell Westbrook received a similar reaction after a demonstrative display. Comment sections and message boards on Denver sports websites and blogs are aflame — as comment sections and message boards tend to be anyway — with criticism of Thunder players’ emotional outbursts.
Maybe they have a point.
First, I must state that in no way do I want the Thunder players to stop being demonstrative during emotional moments. Because I love it. I love Kevin Durant’s primal scream after dunks. I love when Westbrook or anyone else does the same. I love when Ibaka beats his chest or does Air Congo. I love it when Westbrook does his six-shooters routine or James Harden puts three fingers toward the floor when they hit a three. I love Nate Robinson’s wild gyrations and choreographed celebrations following just about anything positive that happens for Oklahoma City.
But I also recognize that if I make a list of NBA players in my head towards whom I have the most negative feelings, they tend to be the demonstrative types. Joakim Noah. Chris Andersen. Kevin Garnett. Jason Terry. And not only to those guys tend to be demonstrative, but that’s also the main reason I tend to dislike them. I don’t even really know why that matters.
(The closest equivalent I can think of stretches back to my OU days when, along with every other Sooner fanatic I know, it was automatic that we hated any white basketball player for Texas. Brian Boddicker and Brad Buckman, I’m looking at you and your alliterative names.)
Perhaps the Denver fans are just bitter that the Nuggets are down 3-0 in a series they expected to be more competitive. But their criticism of the Thunder players took me aback, mainly because that’s pretty rare to see so far.
The Thunder has emerged as the team that lots of folks have made their second-favorite after their own team. People seem to enjoy Oklahoma City’s style of play, the wholesome character displayed by the players and the “anti-Heat” vibe that comes from them. Other than those dimwits wearing Seattle SuperSonics gear who heckled the Thunder from prime seats at the Pepsi Center on Saturday, just about everyone who likes the NBA likes the Thunder too.
And you know what? I like that. I like being emotionally invested in the team that few people hate. I like hearing warm and fuzzy comments from media talking heads and regular people when they talk about the Thunder. I like the image that the team has that fits so well with what the Oklahoma City community would want from its team. I like that OKC doesn’t elicit boos and outright sports hate from opposing crowds like the Lakers and Heat.
Maybe the Nuggets series is a sign that this may not last very long. It’s easier to feel good about someone else’s team when they aren’t a true threat. If the Thunder advances far in this year’s playoffs and then turns into the annual contender most people expect they’ll be, people may not feel the same way about them. I don’t think they’ll ever be as loathed as Miami is now, but the voices of those who don’t like Oklahoma City may begin to multiply.
And the chest-beating, screaming and other demonstrative behavior appears to be contributing to that possible trend. When you’re mad because someone just posterized your favorite player in a big moment, it probably makes it worse if the guy then pops off a little bit. I wanted to scream Dec. 27 when Terry and Tyson Chandler were beating their chests in the closing moments of a Dallas win in Oklahoma City. I can see why Denver fans are upset right now with the youngsters on the Thunder.
But … I don’t really care. Haters gonna hate. The rest of us appreciate. Thirteen wins from the promised land.