It’s been five years since the Thunder migrated South and East from Seattle to completely change the face of an entire state. Royce detailed ALL the goings on of what happened right before and since the move, but he asked me to maybe talk about some stuff that I felt about the squad. Get nostalgic, he’d said in so many words. That is not a problem. Next week we’ll get into the happiness. This week, though, it’s the sadness. The gross times. The worst ones. This is about what I consider to be the worst Thunder moments in five years.
This is my opinion. It’s probably wrong. Many of mine are. You’re inclined to have your own. That’s why sports are awesome. That and the invention of the T-shirt gun. There’s two because I couldn’t choose between them.
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It’s May of 2010 and I’m in Peggs, Oklahoma with 9 of my friends. My face is red and my head feels like it’s going to either explode or collapse in on itself. Like there’s an elephant sitting on it or I’m having to listen to He Who Totally Still Highlights His Hair explain why Eric Maynor should be starting over Russell Westbrook.
I’m dizzy from the screaming. I can feel my heart beating in my temples. I’ve slapped the carpeted ground of my friend JD’s living room multiple times, like I’m trying to guard Kobe myself. I’m refusing to sit down during game time because if I were in the building I’d be standing up so why change just because I’m not.
Commercial breaks are actual water breaks for us. My throat is turning into the Sahara from all the yelling. I’m begging, pleading for stops.
Every time Bynum touches the ball I shout “Trash” at the top of my lungs, a complete rip of an insult I learned from my friend Evan when he got especially rowdy in the left field bleachers at the Bricktown Ballpark once and wanted to get in the head of the visiting team’s left fielder. It is, to this day, the hardest I’ve laughed at a live sporting event.
The game is close. We’d bounced back from two losses in LA to perform two true #kobekills on them in Games 3 and 4. Russ put Lamar in a poster. It was wonderful. Then we go back to LA and catch another L.
In the end it’s Kobe iso’d against Russ. Russ forces him into a bad shot. All we need is a blockout, just one tiny little blockout, and we don’t get it. It’s Pau, smiling, flailing, crying Pau, who finds his way to the ball and tips it in with a half a second left on the clock.
Around that time I scream something awful. All of us in the room fall to the ground like those talking trees in that big battle at the end of The Return of the King while Pau skips and bumps chests and high fives and high hips the entire Lakers squad. (I really loathe thinking about it again. It reminds me of Jordan Farmar and that’s something nobody ever needs.)
It was how it happened and who did it. I’ve since come around on Pau. I think he gets a bit of a bad rap. I mean, his Twitter’s amazing, seems like a pretty okay guy. But at the time he was everything I hated. A “soft” flopper who yelled at the first moment of contact. A beggar, really. His hair flips and his gross beard and his penchant for treating the entire world like it was his son…
It was just the worst.
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The other worst begins with Patrick Beverly trying to be a hero and ends with Russell Westbrook slapping a scorer’s table.
Everyone remembers Beverly as clearly as you remember your first kiss, I’m sure, but in case there are any readers coming out of comas, he’s the backup point guard for the Houston Rockers who tried to steal the ball from Russ as he was calling a timeout. And before I go on, super big congrats on getting out of that coma. You’re one of the lucky ones.
When Beverly lunged for the ball, his knee banged against Russ’. This is a play that happens countless times throughout an NBA season. It’s also one that never works. It’s pointless. It’s fake hustle.
Russ plays the rest of the game. In true Westbrookian fashion he’s a complete and utter monster throughout. Puts up gaudy numbers on one knee. The next day the news drops that Westbrook is out for the rest of the playoffs. The Immortal One, The Great Wolverine, He Who Is Made Of Whatever The Exact Opposite Of What Those Putties In Power Rangers Were Made Of, was down. And he wasn’t coming back.
I sat at my desk at work the day that news came and thought about how that was it, title-wise, for last year. It’s nice to be positive (I tried desperately to convince myself that we’d be fine). You start demanding optimism from yourself. In the moment you tell yourself maybe, maybe we could win, but everyone knew. Deep down, in places where ligaments live, that was it.
The Thunder need Russ. They need to be shaken, screamed at, brought out of possible funks. He did that, time and again. We just didn’t have a clue how well we had it.
Seeing him in that suite with his crutches and playoff issued T-shirt, unable to help, it was the worst.
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There’s a Stoney LaRue song called “Velvet“. I think of it sometimes when I think about the Thunder and how I’ve rooted for them in years past. LaRue’s got a line in the song that says “You’re much too innocent to suffer”. I think, for a good while, I thought we were too fun and too good and too young and went about it in too true of a way for things to go wrong. But that’s not how things work. The league is a cold, cruel mistress who eats your heart while you sleep.
It’s not all sunny days anymore, and that’s fine. That’s good, even. Makes it nicer when the sun comes out.
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Notes: The moments above beat out Game 5 of the NBA Finals two years ago for me if only because, after Mike Miller hit his 1,348th three of that game, I focused all my energies on the Dominoes Stuffed Cheesy Bread that was sitting in front of me and pounded myself into heavy emotional paralysis.
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Next week the sadness is no more. Next week we talk about the best moments in Thunder history. Next week we find out just how much thunder is in your heart.