OK, let’s put a bow on this Five Years of Thunder stuff. And to do that, my 10 very favorite moments from the last five years.
10. The fourth win
It’s kind of weird to remember a game that improved the team to 4-29 as a monumental moment considering all the amazing things that have happened the past five seasons. But there was just something special about it. For whatever reason, 3-26, 3-27 and 3-28 didn’t resonate the way that 3-29 did. My preview before that game I put it as THREE-AND-FREAKING-TWENTY-NINE, in fact. It was like 3-29 was the breaking point. The record finally looked bad enough to make us all realize, “Holy crap, this team is terrible.”
They beat the Warriors that night, though, on New Year’s Eve. Fans left the Ford Center chanting and high-fiving. Horns were honking in the street. It was like it was the biggest win in Thunder history because at the time, it was the biggest win in Thunder history. But that win was a touchstone for the organization. Since that win, they’ve gone 231-130. They haven’t lost 29 games in an entire season in the last three years.
Players, staff and coaches call back on 3-29 often, citing the trials of staring at those three ugly numbers lined up — 3-29. With the way things have gone since, it seems it was almost a necessary low. The night was at its darkest, and with the new year, along with it came the rising sun.
9. Full body freakout
I don’t know what to say. It was just awesome. An awesome play by an awesome player with an awesome reaction that produced an awesome moment.
8. Three golds for Oklahoma City
So one of the three moved on a couple months later, but there was an incredible amount of pride while watching three players from Oklahoma City have a gold medal hung around their necks in London last summer.
7. The chant
Allow me to set the scene: It was one game after Westbrook went 0-13 from the floor against the Grizzlies, and a story of an alleged altercation with Durant was dropped, which only heightened the chatter of an assumed feud between the two. Westbrook was struggling again, turning the ball over and missing shots. The Thunder were behind to the team that just schooled them in the postseason a few months prior, and were facing the real possibility of experiencing an unfortunate, humbling setback.
But then Westbrook scooped up a loose ball and headed straight for the rim. He finished it plus a foul, then stepped to the line. And in a completely spontaneous, incredible moment, the Thunder crowd sensed what Westbrook needed. It wasn’t prompted, it wasn’t announced. It was just the connection this fanbase has to these players on display. RUS-SELL! RUS-SELL! RUS-SELL! That moment has been something Westbrook calls back to often. There’s always been an obvious affection from Thunder fans to Westbrook. But that chant made it a two way street.
6. Game 3 in Houston
Here’s what I wrote about Game 3 against the Rockets, a 104-101 win:
Considering the circumstances, considering the last 48 hours, considering what developed over tonight’s 48 minutes, considering what the Thunder were dealing with, this might’ve been the most emotional Oklahoma City Thunder game I’ve ever watched … Even if the Thunder fall on their face in the next series against the Clippers or Grizzlies, I’m never going to forget this Game 3. This was special, something to remember. This team preaches heart, spirit and toughness. They showed all of it and more tonight. It was the perfect tribute to Russ. Five guys on the floor, playing their hearts and souls out for 48 minutes.
I’ll never forget the heart and grit the team played with that night. They blew a 26-point first half lead, the lost the next two games and they went out in five to Memphis. But that Game 3 against the Rockets was something special, something to remember from an otherwise forgettable 2013 postseason. It was a night the Thunder played the kind of toughness and resiliency Westbrook displays nightly. For Game 3, we were all Russell Westbrook.
5. The airport
The first time will always be the most special. With a win over the Mavericks, the Thunder clinched their first ever trip to the postseason in early April. And in a little bit of a random move, word was put out that the team would be returning to Will Rogers at a certain time and fans were encouraged to congratulate their boys on the accomplishment. It wasn’t a big gathering — probably about 50-100 people — but it was just right. The players had no idea, and the genuine look of appreciation was real. Some of the players have mentioned that night as one of their favorites and while the airport welcomes grew from there, that first time was the best.
But the greeting after the Thunder fell to the Mavs in Game 5 of the 2011 Western Conference finals still chokes me up when I watch it. KD holding his head high pumping his fist, James Harden dancing to “Fear the Beard!” the chant of “Thank you Thunder” — it was perfect.
As the fanbase grows and things continue to get more routine and everyone gets more entitled, that type of stuff will probably fade out. But there was a raw connection and emotion then, a fanbase that was falling in love with a team. I’ll never forget those late nights at Will Rogers International.
4. Opening night
The game itself was a monumental disappointment. The Thunder fell behind 24-14 after the first quarter and were in a double-digit hole the entire night. I remember Desmond Mason had a big dunk at some point in the second half that cut the lead to 10 or 12 and gave everyone a glimmer of hope, but in the end, it was a 98-87 loss, the first of many to come that season.
But the night meant so much more. David Stern kicked things off by welcoming Oklahoma City to the NBA and two hours later, this city had experienced something no one would have ever thought possible — it witnessed a professional basketball team, their very own team, play a game. I still can’t believe it.
3. The first playoff game
I remember sitting in the crowd, a sea of blue, 45 minutes before tipoff of the first ever playoff game in Oklahoma City. No bother the Thunder were down 2-0 to the Lakers. No bother they were an eight-seed taking on the title favorite. The building was full, every fan had their shirt on and everyone — I am serious about this, everyone — was on their feet. Forty-five minutes before tipoff. When the Lakers came on to the floor to warm up, they were greeted by a packed arena, foaming at the mouth for what was set to be one of the biggest nights in the history of Oklahoma.
I remember a montage rolling before starting lineups set to “Dreams” by Van Halen that started with beautiful imagery of this great state, then went to the land run, then went to the dust bowl, then the bombing, and then a Thunder flag flying. I lost it. I’m still losing it.
Then there was a game to play. Like I said, the night was more about the event and the actual game more of a backdrop to this historical moment for the state. And the team played like it. They were tight, they were nervous, they were scared to mess up. They played from behind the entire night, trailing by 8-10 points for most of it. Then there was that spark — a Russell Westbrook hammer over Lamar Odom — that lit the Ford Center on fire. An airball by Shannon Brown led to a break and Durant kicked to James Harden on the wing. Splash. A Derek Fisher brick then led to another runout and you could see it coming as soon as KD rebounded the miss. He was putting one up. Bang. KD for 3. Tie game. Noise. Noise. NOISE.
(Oh, and that little grin from KD after he hit it. How good was that?)
A matter of seconds and the Thunder had erased the deficit and completely bumrushed the Lakers. Durant guarded Kobe the entire fourth quarter, and the Thunder held on to win Game 3. What a night.
2. The standing ovation
It happened without any hesitation. That’s what was so amazing about it. Two seconds after Westbrook’s desperation 3 clanged off the rim and the disappointment washed over the 18,000 in the arena, everyone realized it together.
And they cheered. For almost four minutes, they cheered.
Game 6 against the Lakers was the last stand of the Broingtons. There was a certain innocence to that team. It was a group, and a season, devoid of any expectation. It was all fun, win or lose. Whatever the outcome was, there was going to be love. No complaining about lineups or rotations or playing time. No worries about free agency or draft picks or roster moves. Just a genuine appreciation and admiration for the team on the floor.
A special end to a special season.
1. The NBA Finals come to Oklahoma City
So dusty right now.