About five years ago, during a simpler time, I wrote about what I thought could be the first (of hopefully many) great Thunder traditions.
Apparently I didn’t influence anyone with my brilliant ideas.
Tradition is weird, though. Because all the coolest stuff out there in sports just seem to kind of happened. Everyone wants it, but you can’t make it. Traditions by nature are old, which for the Thunder, a franchise just five years old, complicates things. The first step in building tradition, though, is the most important of all — a winning tradition. Check and check.
The other ones though, the superfluous stuff, which is also known as the fun stuff, is what builds on the culture and identity of being a fan of that team. The Thunder have a pretty obvious identity as an organization, and as a team. Even within Oklahoma City and Oklahoma, they’re a shining city on a hill, the representation of resiliency and hope and good and warm and lovely things. The organization has done an exceptional job of not just being a professional sports franchise that happens to play games in this state with that name on their jerseys. They’re part of the city, and part of the state.
But in terms of becoming a brand within a brand, in terms of ingraining themselves even deeper with a team specific subculture, the Thunder haven’t figured that part out, I think. Part of that is because there hasn’t been enough time. You don’t want to skip steps and get in a big hurry to develop something as fan driven as tradition and pageantry. Like anything else with the Thunder, it’s about the long-view. It’s about creating something cool for the next 50 years, not the next five.
The best traditions come about organically, through a natural process of time and culture. Over an extended period of years and years and years, little things happen that become Regular Things and grow into something everyone within in the fanbase recognizes and appreciates. That’s the thing with tradition — you can’t force them. When you try and make them outright, it never works. People don’t buy in and it just comes across as a really weak effort to establish something. It’s cheesy and mostly pathetic.
But… when you have a fanbase that has this much pride in not just the team and organization, but its city and state, it opens the door wide for there to be some kind of culture and custom built. You want whatever it might be to develop from seemingly thin air, but, it also has to start somewhere.
The Thunder have a few little traditions going that mostly just happened: Playoff shirts, airport greetings, a game on New Year’s Eve every year. But with the passion and fervor in the arena every night, I feel like the organization needs to be capitalizing on it more. There’s so much opportunity to have something that all Thunder fans recognize and take pride in as their own. Liverpool FC has “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (which is just so cool), West Ham United has “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.” The Steelers have the Terrible Towels. The Red Sox have “Sweet Caroline” and “Dirty Water“. The Cubs have “Go Cubs Go.”
You want to know you’re at a Thunder game. You want to feel the atmosphere, you want it to be unique to only a game in Oklahoma City.
One place to start I think is to standardize pregame. When you go to a football game in Norman or Stillwater, everyone knows the pregame routine down to every little song, chant and nuance. It’s almost a call and response thing. Not just what the band plays, but the songs that are played, the timing, the process. For the Thunder, establishing a night-to-night process of events before tipoff, probably cued by music is good. Like last postseason Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell” played before tipoff. Make that the tipoff song. Every night, before the ball goes up, it’s “Run Like Hell.”
The Celtics have Gino Time during blowout wins in the fourth quarter. How about “Oklahoma!” time? The Thunder have mostly avoided playing the state song at games, but as an Oklahoman, nothing makes me swell with more pride than belting that one out. If you’re an Okie, you know every word and you love to sing it. So just roll it between the third and fourth quarter every game. You have to just implement these things and be consistent with them each night. Don’t make it obvious, don’t say, “This is our new thing we’re going to play ‘Oklahoma!’ now!” Just do it, and do it every game.
But what about that unofficial song? Don’t say “Thunderstruck.” Don’t say “Thunder Rolls.” Don’t say “Thunder Road.” The specialness of the Thunder is that it’s tapped into Oklahoma pride, so it needs to be Oklahoma-centered. Right now, after wins, the Thunder go as generic as you can go with that Black Eyed Peas crap and then Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration”. I mean, really? That’s the best they can come up with? For a place like Oklahoma with so much history and culture and tradition, that’s it?
My suggestion five years ago for a post-win song was Three Dog Night’s “Never Been to Spain,” mainly because of the line, “I’ve never been to heaven, but I’ve been to Oklahoma.” That seems like a cool little saying to me. “Never Been To Heaven” could be a nice little motto. Honestly, to NOT play this at some point during every sporting event in Oklahoma is a mistake.
Or go way old school with a Woody/Jack Guthrie throwback in “Oklahoma Hills.” A perfect little folk about Oklahoma, by Oklahomans. Just try listening to that without a smile on your face. Go ahead. Try.
There’s “Oklahoma Borderline” from native son Vince Gill. Or “Oklahoma Swing” by Vince and Reba. Or “Oklahoma Breakdown” by the Hosty Duo. Or “Do You Realize??” by the Flaming Lips, which is also Oklahoma’s official rock song. Or “Lips of an Angel” by local band Hinder. Just kidding. Or “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd. Not kidding about that one.
And of course there’s this. This has to be used. But that goes without saying.
My point with this is, the Thunder have rapidly become part of Oklahoma’s identity. In five quick years, they went from being a niche to as broad and popular as the state’s primary universities. (They are. It’s true.) They’ve accomplished the hardest part, I think, in establishing a winning culture while being adopted into the everyday lives of their fans. Oklahoma City isn’t Green Bay or Liverpool quite yet where the team is permanently been fixed to the identity of its location.
But part of that fusion is the experience, atmosphere and what it means to be a fan. I see Red Sox fans tweet things like, “Go Sox! #dirtywater” or just #YNWA before a LFC match. Those are two of the most tradition-rich sports organizations in the world and they’ve been running for more than a hundred years. The Thunder are still babies, but you have to start somewhere. So that in 50 years, when “Never Been To Spain” or whatever rolls after a win inside whatever arena the Thunder are playing in, it’s just the call and response of being a fan.
Let’s crowdsource this too. Suggestions? Ideas?