About two years ago, the rumblings started to become real. The Seattle SuperSonics would pack up and make the trip to some town in middle America. Wait, really? Really?
Fast forward two years, and the basketball team formerly known as the Sonics are among the leagues hottest and most discussed teams. The Thunder are sitting just two and half games behind the Nuggets for the Divisional lead (as of the moment this article was published). You can't watch ESPN without seeing Kevin Durant throw down a dunk or Russell Westbrook dishing a no look pass to the corner. Oklahoma, it's time to jump on the bandwagon.
The start of the 2008-2009 wasn't easy for the Thunder's new home state. Despite suffering through one of the worst starts in NBA history —thank you Nets for making us forget that —the fans came out. However, it was so that everyone could see the stars of the NBA. There was no talk of "Hey, wonder how many KD's going to drop today?" or "Man, is Sefolosha an All-Defensive team candidate?" No, fans wanted to see the LeBrons, Kobes, and D-Wades.
Slowly, Oklahoma City turned it around on the basketball court. After acquiring Nenad Krstic and Thabo Sefolosha, the team went on to finish the season 20-30. Nothing to write home about, but we loved it.
The end of last season, I started writing about the Thunder of Bleacher Report. Jokingly, I was taunted by friends about how much OKC would lose by that night. I kept watching, I kept cheering. I still remember Jeff Green's game winning shot against Golden State. I'm pretty sure I woke up half of my apartment complex with that one.
As I wrote, as my friends talked, people started to grow fond of this little team. The invention of Twitter brought the lofty stars of Oklahoma City into focus. It got a lot of other NBA players in trouble, but it gave Thunder fans a glimpse of what made their team human.
Fast forward to the start of this season. I see a couple of Facebook statuses regarding the game, or people joining fan groups. With each win, people started to notice the team I have loved since their founding (sounds good doesn't it?). It's not just my personal circle, of course, local sports talk radio is flooded with Thunder talk.
With the Thunder playing a great brand of team-oriented basketball, and the local colleges fading away, Oklahoma City found themselves in a perfect position.
No longer do fans come to see other teams play. They go to see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. People who, just last year, had no idea what an "inbounds pass" was are cheering when Serge Ibaka steps on the court.
The state of Oklahoma is growing with the Thunder. When I started cheering, the band wagon was just a wheel and a pile of wood. Now, we're trying to find a place for all the national talking heads to sit.