Oklahoma City Thunder: The Evolution of Fan Demeanor

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Oklahoma City Thunder: The Evolution of Fan Demeanor
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

As an Oklahoman, I can remember the exact moment I heard news of Oklahoma City getting its own professional basketball team.

It was early Summer 2008—July 2nd, to be exact—and I turned my television to SportsCenter and saw headlines reading, "Seattle SuperSonics Relocation to Oklahoma City."

My father was with me at the time, and both of our eyes were glued to the television. We were speechless for a few moments as we both attempted to digest the very moment Oklahoma City acquired its very first professional sports team.

We then began conversation of what the franchise's relocation to Oklahoma City would mean for our state. We discussed the economic effects, the unification of Oklahomans and the ultimate growth of our city.  

Then my father said to me, "Imagine if our team made it to the playoffs."

"That'd be unreal," I said. "But I'd go to every home game even if they went 0-82 on the season."

As it turned out, the rest of Thunder Nation had the same thought process. The Thunder were the bottom-feeders of the NBA in their first season in 2008-09 and basically the laughing stock of the league.

But Thunder fans backed their team unconditionally through the dismal year.

To the fans, the Thunder were like a first-born child who could do no wrong. Fans were happy just to have a professional team, and they showed love for their players night in and night out no matter how dismal their record was. 

Layne Murdoch/Getty Images
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Golden State Warriors in 2008.

Before the arrival of an NBA franchise in Oklahoma City, our state was known for things like college football, deadly tornadoes, scorching hot summers, and mostly, the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Federal building. 

Once the Thunder arrived in Oklahoma City, the culture of the state was renewed. The state had always been divided by Bedlam, an in-state rivalry between two collegiate sports programs in the Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma State Cowboys. And for the first time, the two fanbases had the opportunity to join as one to back a team in the the Thunder. 

The unification of fanbases was a dream come true for the Thunder organization. Sooners and Cowboys fans have always had a reputation of being prideful, intense, loud, loyal and supportive of their teams.

Upon the Thunder's arrival, the two fanbases combined forces in supporting their Thunder team and are now known as one of the best fanbases in the NBA. 

Thunder Nation had low expectations in the beginning. It understood it took much time—maybe even a decade—for a team to develop into playoff contenders. The Thunder's first season was rough, but expected.

Still, many fans took up seats in the Ford Center—now named the Chesapeake Arena—to support Thunder players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Earl Watson and Nick Collison.

After the dismal first season, Thunder fans were expecting a long wait before their team would start to have success.

I remember thinking the Thunder would have a shot at making the playoffs in three or four years. Many Thunder fans thought the same. 

Surprisingly, the Thunder made the playoffs the very next season. 

The Thunder won 50 games in the 2009-10 regular season, improving upon the previous year by 27 wins. They entered the playoffs as a No. 8 seed and took on the Western Conference's top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, ultimately losing the series 4-2. 

The 2009-10 season was the first year there seemed to be a buzz among Thunder Nation. The expectations were extremely low after the Thunder's catastrophic season the previous year. But after bouncing back and having so much success so quickly and unexpectedly, Thunder fans started to gain hope in their team and a blood-thirst desire for more.

Not to mention, things seemed to be rolling extremely fast in the right direction for the Thunder.

After the 2008-09 season in Oklahoma City, the Thunder acquired James Harden and Serge Ibaka in the 2009 draft behind the brilliance of Thunder general manager Sam Presti. As stated earlier, the Thunder won 50 games and made a playoff appearance in the following season. 

In 2010-11, The Thunder made a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics, acquiring Kendrick Perkins and Daequan Cook for Jeff Green. The Thunder kept things moving in the right direction that season as they made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. The Thunder lost in that series 4-1. 

At this point, Thunder fans started to gain a whole new demeanor. Their team was starting to have a lot of success, and expectations from the fanbase began to grow. Even though Thunder Nation still had a love-the-team-no-matter-what attitude, there was still a desire for more.

Thunder fans were spoiled having a team that developed into title contenders so quickly. But with success comes expectations, and Thunder fans certainly began developing higher expectations once their team started putting together playoff contending years on a consistent basis. 

Then came the 2011-12 season. 

It was the season many thought would be the start of a dynasty. Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Harden were evolving into stars. The Chesapeake Arena was sold out on a consistent basis, and the Thunder ended the regular season with a 47-19 record—albeit, the season was shortened due to a lockout that year. 

Thunder Nation was getting everything it wanted as its team rolled through the Western Conference playoffs. And it almost seemed surreal once the Thunder overcame an 0-2 series deficit against the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals and won four straight games to head to the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat

Still, Thunder fans ended the season wanting more after the Heat won the series 4-1. It was the first time I remember hearing slight hints of pessimism among the fanbase.

It questioned whether the organization's management was doing the right things, whether the coaching staff had the leadership needed to sustain success and if the players had what it takes to win it all. 

Lynne Sladky
Durant and Westbrook watch Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals slip away as the Miami Heat clinch the title.

To make things worse, the Thunder failed to re-sign Harden, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, in the following offseason.

All of a sudden a picture-perfect fanbase stopped showing unconditional love and started talking about things like championships, dynasties and windows of opportunity.  

But can you blame Thunder Nation for their change in demeanor?

I think not.

The honeymoon stage for the Thunder fanbase is over, and it's end was inevitable. The Thunder have spoiled their fans by rising to contender status so quickly. It's human nature for fans to want more from their team after tasting the success of WCF and NBA championship appearances. 

Last season was the first time in the past four years the Thunder failed to make an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. But many fans held on to the excuse of Westbrook falling to injury in the first series against the Rockets.

But now, as we enter the 2014 playoffs, Thunder fans believe this is the year to get over the hump and capture an elusive NBA title. 

Sue Ogrocki
Kevin Durant contributes in relief effort in Moore, OK after a devastating twister ripped through the town.

Thunder fans have embraced their team from the start. They are proud of their team for the success they have gained in such a short time period and are appreciative of Thunder players for being pillars in the community.

Every team in the league does its part in giving back to the community, but the Thunder organization has taken further steps with their relief efforts after natural disasters, donations to foundations in the community and through their honorable reputation as humble, standout citizens. 

But now with the playoffs just getting started, the Thunder will have an opportunity to give back to their fanbase by making a championship run. 

The thought of an NBA team winning a championship in Oklahoma City was blasphemous just a decade ago, but now there is a good chance it could become a reality.

The evolution in demeanor of the Thunder fanbase has been much quicker than anticipated. But, ultimately, Thunder Nation just wants what every NBA organization should want for their team: success.

Follow @JaredPorter_BR on Twitter for more Thunder news and analysis.  

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