It was the Ford Center before it was anything else. Before pro basketball found its way into the heart of the city, before all the NCAA Tournament first and second round games, before The Peake and Loud City and concerts and all those shiny ads for Riverwind and Rumble, it was just the Ford Center. This big round building at the edge of Bricktown with a logo on the outside that meant we could maybe get some kind of pro team someday. Maybe. Someday. Maybe.
Then we get the Hornets for a bit. Housed them for a couple years. These were the early Chris Paul years. The years before he started whining a lot. He’s an even better player now by a mile or two, but even then the ball looked like it was created to fit his hand. I’m rambling on unimportant things. You know all that.
Then come the Thunder.
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I’m not at a place where I get to go to a lot of the games. I don’t live in Oklahoma currently and, even when I did, it was just a whole lot of money that college kids tend to not have. The times I got to see games were because I had a friend, Colt, who worked at Chesapeake and got tickets on occasion. Shouts out to Colt. Congrats on the newly re-done living room. The pictures on Facebook look great. Glad you kept the Woody Guthrie painting up. Those new gray wonderland walls kill fascists.
I got to go watch the Thunder play the Warriors once. Corey Maggette scored 20 some. George Gervin sat court-side and did not respond to my “Ice Man!” shouts or my inquiries as to whether or not he liked the popcorn he was eating.
Got to see them play the Spurs. That was either an over-time or double-overtime thriller. DeJuan Blair put up big numbers as Tim Duncan rested on the bench that game. He was wearing really big wide leg jeans and a tan sport jacket. Manu played terribly the whole time then made the play of the game to win it for them. I got on the jumbo-tron at one point in the fourth quarter and my friends Mason and Jason made fun of me for wearing a North Face t-shirt underneath a North Face hoodie.
My crown jewel, though, was getting to be in the Ford Center for their first regular season game ever. I sat in an upper level seat with absolutely zero legroom, ate a tub of popcorn, a pretzel, and was sincerely amped to watch Robert Swift play. Robert Swift. Robert. Swift.
My buddy Heath took myself and our other buddy Eman. Heath’s Dad, Timmy!, had gotten season tickets and I was the beneficiary of their kindness. We sat fairly high along some railing right above a walkway opposite the Thunder bench. Got a shirt that said something semi-inspirational on it, as is always the game ops crew’s want. Team Is Oklahoma Heart Soul Avatar Community Love Jones.
They played the Bucks. Carlos Delfino torched us and left a bloody, scorched, red clay earth in his Argentinian wake and Earl Watson scored the first points in Thunder history. He was our starting point guard. Earl Watson. Earl. Watson. He wound up marrying that girl from “My Wife and Kids” and they had some real fun times together.
Somebody down the row from me was wearing a Nuggets jersey with the name “Bad Billy” on the back. There were several Kobe jerseys in the audience. Still a ton of Hornets gear spattering the stands. Something like a thousand Desmond Mason jerseys.
These were the dark times. The dead ones.
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I still have my ticket from that night’s game. It was big and laminated and, as all really important tickets do, came hooked to a lanyard. The ticket is in a box with a collection of other who’s it’s and what’s it’s from my life that I know I don’t ever want to lose. It’s inside a cup that may or may not have been lifted from a Kansas City Area steakhouse. It rubs elbows with important things because it’s an important thing.
In looking back at what I felt about the team at that time, it’s particularly amazing how lucky we’ve been in the years since then. I mean, Etan Thomas is awesome and he writes great poetry, but if he’s one of your best bigs then you’re probably in a whole lot of very real and very big trouble.
You’re on this site so you know the full story. The 23 wins. The growth. The coming into their own. The first big trade. The Finals. The second big trade. So on until The Peake is no longer standing. But at that time we were just pumped to have a team that we could call our very own. They were ours. None of this OKC/NO stuff. We didn’t have to share anymore. We didn’t really care that they were a sucky team because they were our sucky team and that’s really all that mattered. It was a squad that a state in love with sports could throw its whole weight behind. We could finally all be united under one flag. The love didn’t have to be split between OU, OSU, and Tulsa. One state, under Kevin, with liberty, and Westbrook Vines for all.
If you’d have told me then, that first night, sitting way up high, shoveling popcorn into my mouth like I hadn’t eaten in weeks, that I’d be disappointed with a second round playoff exit in five years, then I would’ve thought you were nuts. But that’s what five years does. That’s what Sam Presti and Russell Westbrook and Scott Brooks and Kevin Durant can do when you let them lay hands on your town for a handful of years. They give you every reason to expect the absolute best.
Here’s to five more.