An opening night for the ages

Tonight, something will happen in downtown Oklahoma City. Something that I can’t really wrap my mind around. Something so unbelievably far-fetched that it doesn’t seem real in any way.

A professional sport will be played in the Sooner State but with a catch – it won’t be leaving any time soon.

I know. I know. We didn’t get this team in the most favorable way. Some say we stole them. Some say we don’t deserve them. And honestly, if I could change the way it went down, I would. I hate that Seattle won’t see the emerald and yellow take the floor. It’s weird to even think about it. The Sonics have been such a staple in the NBA over the past, well, 41 years, that not having them will be like turning on Spike TV and not seeing an episode of CSI. I bet nearly every Thunder fan would admit they don’t like the circumstances in which a basketball team found its way to Oklahoma City. But that won’t stop this city from exploding with excitement for NBA basketball.

Oklahoma City was the darling of professional sports back in 2005. Everyone couldn’t believe how we embraced the transplanted Hornets. And it was unbelievable. A small market like OKC, filling the seats in an arena for a bad team that wasn’t going to stay. It was truly something else. But just that little taste of the big time lit a fire under OKC – a fire that burns brighter than ever today.

But now, OKC is the whipping boy. Everyone outside of Oklahoma can’t start a sentence about the Thunder without thinking or saying something about the empty hole in Seattle. And it is a shame because I wish the rest of the country could just have a taste of what we’re feeling here.

In a few years, it will all pass. People will forget about the logo, the nickname and the jerseys. People will forget about the circumstances of the move from the Emerald City to Oak City. In three years, the talk will be about the players, the coaches and what’s happening on the floor – not what happened off it.

I remember when Art Modell packed up the Browns’ gear and put it on a bus to Baltimore. The entire country was outraged. Just furious. Especially when the new Browns picked purple as their primary color. But it passed. Nobody complains any more, except about the Browns’ defense.

I remember when the Oilers quit pumping and scurried to Nashville. People couldn’t believe there was no football in Houston. And have you seen the Titans uniforms? But the NFL still lets them play. And the animosity passed.

If you’re a Thunder fan, you should root for one thing (besides Thunder victories) – that Seattle gets another team. Because then OKC can drop its No. 1 Enemy status and hopefully go back to being the little city that could. Seattle gets the pity and OKC gets the hate. But it will pass. And if Slick Sam Presti is doing as good a job as we think he is, it may pass a lot quicker than anticipated.

But four years ago, can you imagine this would be here? Thinking back to when I was in middle school, I remember OKC making a push for an NHL team. We thought that would be huge. We thought that was our chance to be a real city. Our chance to show people what we were all about. We were going to have a pro sports team to follow, to talk about, to write about. We were going to get to know the players, buy their jerseys, paint our faces and go to the games. For once, we were going to just get a taste of what it’s like to live in Chicago or Dallas. But we failed. We didn’t land the team. And after the ice melted, it looked as if our ship sailed right past the harbor and would never come back.

Some have this view of Oklahoma City as a cow town where cars battle stage coaches on the highway. Where the Ford Center is surrounded by tepees and barren wheat fields. Where we’ve yet to find out about the Internet and cable television. Before the Thunder, if someone in the Northeast heard Oklahoma, they either though “bombing,” “college football” or “dust bowl.” The NBA is giving Oklahoma a chance to show what we really are. To show the country that we’re a really special place with extraordinary people. Some think Oklahoma is boring and the only thing to do here is rope cattle. But you know what? Keep it that way. Because if the people that made fun of OKC only knew what it was like here, they’d drop that latte they were sipping on, pack their crap and board a plane to Bricktown in a heartbeat.

Proof that the NBA has set this city on fire: Me. One year ago, you couldn’t pay me to watch 48 minutes of NBA basketball. But over the past three weeks, I have watched seven preseason games in their entirety. Heck, I even started a blog to talk about the NBA. If you would’ve told me I would do that 12 months ago, I would’ve kicked you in the nards to see if you had a pulse.

As a life-long Oklahoman and someone that bleeds Oklahoma, this is as big a moment as I can think of, outside of any of the seven national championships the Sooners have claimed. (Look, as much as we love the Thunder, nothing, and I mean nothing, will knock OU football from the top of the mountain.) As I walked on OU’s campus this morning, in a matter of minutes I saw a handful of students wearing Thunder shirts and Durant jerseys. And when I saw them, it hit me. I stopped. I smiled. I can’t believe I am going to an NBA basketball game tonight for my hometown team.

This state’s idols have been guys named Bud, Barry, Bob, Barry (Sanders), Eddie, Adrian and a slew of other college stars. Oklahoma is a state rabid about college sports and the Thunder will never nudge Oklahoma State or Oklahoma. But there’s a spot for this team. And that was shown by the 13,000 strong that ate up season tickets in five days. OKC is one of four cities with season ticket waiting lists. Let me say that again: Oklahoma City is in the same company as Boston, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Oklahoma City. Mind blowing.

So you outsides, hate on Oklahoma City all you want. Call them the Bennett City Hijackers, call them Kevin Durant’s team, or don’t even acknowledge them at all. But just know that this city finally has something to hold on to – an identity outside of what happened on April 19, 1995 or what you perceive us to be. It’s a fairy tale and us Oklahomans can’t believe it’s real. There’s professional basketball in Oklahoma and no one can take that from us. You can bash us, make fun of us and laugh at us – but you’ll never steal our Thunder.