As proud as the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise is about the 55-win season, Northwest Division title and appearance in the Western Conference Finals, its ranking in ESPN the Magazine’s “Ultimate Team” standings is probably right up there.
The Thunder placed sixth overall in the magazine’s annual rankings and second out of all NBA teams, only behind big brother San Antonio. The five organizations ahead of OKC are the Packers, Tampa Bay Lightning, New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Angels and the Spurs.
Last season the Thunder came in 25th overall and fifth out of NBA teams.
The criteria the magazine uses is “Bang For The Buck” which is wins over the past three years per revenues from fans, “Fan Relations” which is “openness and consideration toward fans by players, coaches and management,” “Ownership,” “Affordability,” “Stadium Experience,” “Players” which includes the likability of the roster, “Coaching” and “Title Track” which is championships won or the expectation of one in the near future.
In those areas, the Thunder ranked 12th in “Bang For The Buck,” fourth in “Fan Relations,” 23rd in “Ownership,” third in “Affordability,” 62nd in “Stadium Experience,” fourth in “Players,” 27th in “Coaching” and 43rd in “Title Track.”
Sure, the Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant relationship has been endlessly dissected in the wake of the Thunder’s loss in the Western Conference finals. But how many teams — and fan bases — wouldn’t take the two 22-year-old stars? Add in 21-year-olds James Harden and Serge Ibaka and the Thunder have the kind of exciting young core that front offices dream about. Thunder GM Sam Presti is committed to building through the draft and not doling out precious cap money to expensive vets. Not like many FA are interested in Oklahoma anyway.
The Thunder’s meteoric rise in the past couple of years, from 57th overall in 2009 to sixth this year, is a direct result of on-court success. The franchise’s first visit to the Western Conference finals since 1996 (they were in Seattle then) allowed the organization to showcase its fan-friendly, frenzied atmosphere at the Oklahoma City Arena. So even on nights when Westbrook is shooting too much and KD is standing around on the wing, below-average ticket costs and rock-bottom beer prices (a $5 pint is a stone-cold bargain at an arena these days) keep Thunder fans rolling in, and satisfied.
So really, it’s more the roster that has helped the Thunder score so high. Tickets, parking and fan relations are really good, but arena experience and the path to a title scored a little lower, which I find a little curious because I would’ve thought those were two strengths of the team.
Regardless, sixth overall in all sports and second in the NBA is something to be proud of. It’s obvious to everyone how well run the Thunder franchise is run and operated. Kendrick Perkins immediately said the Thunder were a “first class organization” as soon as he arrived and it’s the truth.
Oklahoma City might not necessarily have South Beach, Hollywood or Times Square, but it makes up for it by having a community that’s bananas about the team and an organization that does things first class. Maybe the canal and Cowboy Hall of Fame won’t be drawing free agents or making players want to re-sign, but the team itself does.
The Thunder fanbase is one of the best in all of sports, but honestly, this organization makes it almost impossible not to be crazy about the team.