It’s becoming a frustratingly ridiculous trend. The Thunder lose a game, the questions and statements start.
What’s wrong? Whose fault is this? Where are the adjustments? Scott Brooks has got to go. Why is Perk playing? This team can’t win a title. Something has to change.
I get it. Fans being fans. The vocal minority is always heard, because they’re the loudest and grab attention the easiest. There’s a level of investment with fans and emotionally, losing stinks. It’s never fun, it’s never acceptable.
But this consistent sky-is-falling mindset is getting weird to me. Maybe I’m misreading the pulse of the fanbase, but I definitely feel it. From the tweets and emails I get to the calls into radio to the statements made by national writers and analysts, it seems something is there.
The facts of being 57-21, possessing two of the top 10 players in the league, being the defending Western Conference champs and remaining a title favorite with a roster mostly under the age of 25 don’t seem to be good enough. Or least, “fool’s gold” to some. The 57 wins only have served to hide the glaring issues while the 21 losses have exposed the Thunder for what they are.
So, where is all this coming from?
Entitlement and expectation are two of the most dangerous things for a fanbase. They’re also part of the evolution of one. They can be a slow-working virus that builds into full-fledged uproar. When your expectations are low, or at least, realistic, it means a good season is a lot more enjoyable. For instance, I wrote this in Dec. 2009 when the Thunder were 17-14 and surprisingly headed for a 50-win season and playoff appearance.
I’m just trying to say appreciate this season because it might be the funnest ever. A season of no expectation, no cause for letdown, no idea of what could be.
Sure there will be bigger moments down the line. Bigger shots. More memorable games. Huge playoff series. But something just tells me that this might be the year we all remember 30 years from now as our favorite ever. It was the year we got to literally watch a core of young players evolve and grow right in front of us. We got to watch a future NBA great begin to take his steps into that pantheon of unparalled superstardom. We got to watch young studs begin to understand their role and what they could do to make their team win. We got to see raw talents like Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook find themselves and figure out how to harness their ridiculous abilities and skillsets.
This team is going places. And in 10 years who knows what’ll be hanging from the rafters in the Ford Center. Maybe a Western Conference banner. Maybe a couple Northwest Division titles. Maybe… an NBA title. But before we find ourselves as that entitled fanbase that expects 50 wins and nothing less, we can sit and appreciate a 17-14 team for what they are – a group of youngsters hungry to be great. It’s truly a beautiful thing to me.
But when your expectations grow, so does disappointment. The Thunder are past the “be thankful they’re good” phase, because this is now four straight seasons of quality. The team has progressed and evolved past feeling good about close losses and first round exits, and so has the fanbase. It’s part of the process.
Here’s my theory about the uproar after some games though: Losses ring much louder because there has to be a reason for it. When the Thunder got good, with that came the expectation that they should win every game they play. Not go 82-0, but when they take the floor any given night, there’s an expectation that they should be good enough to win the current game.
And that’s absolutely a fair expectation. When you’re good, you give yourself a chance to win every time out. In the Thunder’s case, the odds of winning are better than “a chance.” They’re high. So when they fail, it’s not about the other team’s performance or bad luck or something else. It’s about what went wrong for the Thunder that prevented them from winning. We all know how talented and how good this Thunder team can be, so really, they should win every game they play. At least if they perform to their capability, they should.
Add in the James Harden trade that completely changed the perception of this team and you have a perfect storm for panic. Because with Harden, at least you could draw constant comparisons to last year’s team with the fallback knowledge that they made it to the Finals anyway. With the change, there’s worry, there’s fear, there’s anxiety. Some warranted, some too much.
I was curious, how does a seasoned fanbase like the Spurs approach this kind of thing? I asked Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell:
Well, I think fans have big reactions across the board. I tend to think we overstate the differences in fan-bases when the similarities are just as prominent. That being said, I think any given loss doesn’t cause wild swings. I think Spurs fans fall into 3 large camps: the pessimistic, the optimistic and the rational. The first see any old loss as part of a larger pattern of inevitable failure; the second as a hiccup en route to a title; the third as what it likely is: a statistically insignificant event that nonetheless sheds light on enduring strengths and weaknesses in the team.
Point is, I find people tend to react the way the were pre-disposed to react. I rarely come across a game where I feel like the size of those camps swung wildly in any given direction. But then again, as you say, maybe that’s Spurs fans.
A smart, well-reasoned, rational response from a Spurs guy. Typical. And really, I think Thunder fans are about the same. There are the pessimists, the ones that use isolated events to make proclamations of future failure. There are the optimists, the ones that refuse to accept anything negative and choose to live in an alternate reality where the Thunder are their perfect little boys (also known as “the organization’s favorite people in the world”). And there are the rationalists, those that get the season’s long, that it’s hard to win games and that winning a championship is something only one out of 30 teams accomplishes each season.
Kevin Durant said it perfectly after the loss Sunday against New York: “We’re good. We’re good. Five more games to go. We lost a tough one, that team shot the ball well tonight. Hit some tough shots all night. We forced them to shoot some tough ones and they hit them. Tip your hat to them. Other than that, what’s the need to panic for? We’re good.”
Some of the concerns and questions are extremely valid. Sometimes, Scott Brooks makes you gargle battery acid with his substitutions. Sometimes, Perk looks he was just unfrozen from carbonite before tipoff. Sometimes, the Thunder make you worry. I don’t deny that the Thunder have issues. It’s just that everybody does.
Maybe I’m overreacting to the overreacting here, but I just get the sense there’s a new fragility in the psyche of Thunder fans. The Harden trade changed everything and potentially redirected the pattern this franchise was on course for.
Some even pooh-pooh the success of the team and use it to place a weird ultimatum on the franchise. As if having players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are supposed to guarantee you something. Winning in the NBA is hard. Will the Thunder win a championship? Dunno. And if they don’t, should there be pitchforks and fire? Sure, if you want to go that route. Though keep in mind: The grass is never greener. Stability almost always wins out in sports. Emotional overreactions rarely do.
As the playoffs near, it’s only going to get worse. The postseason is a whole other beast. Each game feels like The Most Important Game Of All Time, and each loss feels like the beginning of the end. Think the panic and worry are high after a loss in April to the Knicks? A Game 2 failure against the Nuggets will send things through the roof. The postseason is terrifying and each game is an excruciating, exhausting three-hour marathon of emotional twists and turns.
But it’s also really fun. Try and remember that part a little.