Well, the basketball season is finally over for our great, youthful, exhuberant team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Whether or not you are a professional basketball fan, you have to love this bunch of kids. They are quite different from most NBA teams - they don't have long rap sheets (or any rap sheets, for that matter), you won't see many tattoos or fistfights, and no one, at least that we know of, has beaten up a child, a wife or a pet. The Thunder took some heat this year, particularly during the Denver series, for being "boy scouts" and not "tough enough", but they dispatched Denver quickly enough, then Memphis, and finally met their match in an outstanding Dallas Maverick team. Our guys were simply too young and inexperienced to prevail against a much older and wily Dallas team.
The Thunder were one of the four NBA teams (out of 30) still standing. Now there are only two and the Thunder has come home to their cheering crowd. Watch out next year, NBA...
I was going to write a tribute to our team of boy scouts, but one of our celebrities here in OKC, Jenifer Reynolds beat me to the punch. Her tribute was much better than mine would have been, so I am re-posting it right here. Jenifer Reynolds was one of our best news anchors ever in OKC and retired from news much too early. She now hosts a popular Oklahoma program on our PBS channels.
Here is Jenifer's tribute to the Thunder:
I know by now you must be asking yourselves, what's the deal with these people in Oklahoma City? Can they not do math? Have they not figured out the rules? Did they not notice we threw away a fourth quarter lead in two consecutive games to lose the series 4 - 1? Should we tell them, or hope they never figure it out???
The truth is we couldn’t love you any more than we do now even if you had won the title. I wanted you to know that, so you'll stop thinking you let us down.
It's odd that I would be writing this letter, since I don't even like NBA basketball, or at least I didn't before. By this time each year, my husband would be watching with the sound down because the endless squeak of basketball shoes during the interminable months of the pro season would have been driving me mad.
But not this year. Throughout the playoffs, we were stitched to the set through every game we could watch, screeching and howling like breeding cats over every basket you hit, every one you missed, every bad call, every win and every loss.
And while we would have loved for you to win the title, here's what you have to understand - we wanted it for YOU, not for us.
Why is that? Because you’ve helped us show the world who we are.
You guys never give up and we don't either. We didn't quit after the Dust Bowl or the oil busts or the Murrah Bombing or the tornadoes that plowed through the heart of our community a decade ago. We never looked up and said who's going to fix this? Who's going to bring us trailers to live in or send our kids to college? We just rolled up our sleeves and went to work.
What you see downtown - Oklahomans did that. Our leaders dreamed it up and we paid for it. That building you play in? We built that, too. The names of the big energy companies may spin around the light board inside, but it was the sweat of ten thousand roughnecks that helped put their money in the bank. We know how to work hard and we respect that ethic in others.
After April 19, 1995 people kept asking us, "Will you ever be the same?" And I always thought, "Of course not! The real question is, whether we'll be better or worse." WE decided we'd be better, and we are. In fact, sometimes when I look at all we've done since then, it's hard for me to believe - and I saw it all happen! But no matter what we do, we have a hard time convincing the rest of America we're not just a hump on the back of Texas.
You’re helping us change that, and we’d sure love it if eventually you’d beat those guys. But we’re willing to wait.
Just like you, Oklahoma is a little on the young side – the fifth youngest state in the Union. In a way, we're still trying to create our place in America and we face some pretty heavy stereotypes. We're the state (along with the Dakotas) that Rand McNally once left out of its portable atlas to save space. We're the state that gets dismissed by national sports writers and coaches as a backwater or a "small town". That backhanded dis-not-so-cleverly-disguised-as-a-compliment by Nuggets Coach George Karl who called us the “Green Bay of the NBA” is just par on our course. Actually, I really don't mind being compared to the Cheeseheads, because most people in America don’t get them either. WE do. They’re working people just like us who know how to support a team!
We're the people who set what is now called "The Oklahoma Standard" for community response to disaster. We're the people who taught the world how to grieve in a public and positive way, how to turn disaster into opportunity.
We don't always win here, but nobody cares more, tries harder, or stays truer than Oklahomans. There's something strange and special about this place, but you have to stay here for a while to understand it.
Today when somebody drove by with his Thunder flag still flying, while we were listening to Native Son Bryan White sing “Dust Bowl Dreams” about how Oklahomans “push on and persevere” I realized exactly why it is we love you guys: In some odd way that defies explanation you GET us.
You get who we are and you've been able to give us a voice in the world by the way you play, by the way you persevere. All of us Native Okies are here because somebody decided to stick it out through the bad times and keep working for better times. When we watch you play, we see those beliefs rewarded. For us, whether you win or lose really is less important than how you play the game.
And that's why the crowd was still chanting "OKC! OKC!" even as you set a dubious new NBA record for a blown lead. That's why they were waiting for you at oh-dark-30 this morning, chanting, "Thank you, Thunder!" While you may think you owe US something, we know in our hearts that we really owe YOU.
So don’t hang your heads. Just get ready for next year, because as Bryan White sings, “Quitting is something Okies just don’t do.”
Keep rolling, Thunder. We’re behind you all the way.