Welcome to the latest installment of Secondhand Sports, where I give you an in-depth look at a sporting event that you were too busy being somewhere other than Oklahoma to attend. I spent more than a month preparing for this post, as it required me to get a new job, move and take a work trip to Oklahoma City in order to report it. But those are the lengths I’m willing to go to for y’all. This time, I spotlight Game 3 of the NBA’s Western Conference Finals, which featured the San Antonio Spurs at the Oklahoma City Thunder.
As someone who only lived in Seattle for three months but tries to act like a totally legit Seattleite, I have very mixed feelings about the Oklahoma City Thunder. I love their stars: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. I love the fact that they’re the new kids on the block of the NBA’s elite. I also love that the city sheltered the Hornets in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and that they’ve developed a passionate hoops following in Oklahoma.
But I’m not allowed to like them, because they killed Seattle basketball. Nevermind that the city couldn’t suck it up and build a new arena, or that the Sonics’ demise makes my favorite soccer team, Seattle Sounders FC, that much more popular. The owners of the Thunder stole the Sonics, and they can just go to hell.
So it was with mixed emotions that I entered Chesapeake Energy Arena for the game. I was excited to see my first NBA playoff game, but I felt dead inside and totally resistant to any kind of celebration with the home crowd. So I guess it felt like any normal day of work as a sports reporter, except I didn’t get free food or WiFi.
Let’s get it on.
(Note: In a McCallin’ It Like I See It first, all times listed are Central. This is a big switch, so please visit this time zone converter and run the numbers to stay with the story. Make sure you stop and do that before every single line. Don’t pull some cowboy shit and try to do the math in your head or skip it altogether. That’s how people get hurt.)
7:58: I step out of my car in the parking lot, and the attendant is already striding toward me. He looks like he just can’t wait to tell me something, and I’m already positive it’s going to be weird. It is.
“I got some good news today,” he says. I’m determined to will this into being a normal exchange, so I cheerfully say, “Oh, yea, what’s that?”
“They caught my friend’s murderer.”
How the hell do you respond to something like that? I get celebrating that fact once you’ve had time to grieve, but I just became aware of your friend’s existence. Now all of a sudden he’s dead, and I can’t just brush that aside and be happy about the arrest. I say something about a silver lining, he says something about it possibly being meth-related. Perfect.
8:01: I buy a ticket from a scalper, shaving $20 off the price with my go-to “I’m just a broke college kid, I can’t pay that much” line. It’s still undefeated. Seriously try it. I also have a friend who says he got out of several speeding tickets by saying he was stressed out because of school and then talking about exams and papers and stuff. This will work at least until you’re 28.
8:05: I take my seat in the upper deck, which comes with a free t-shirt and is dubbed “Loud City.” This is an immediate sign of severe retardation. If a place has “Town” or “City” in the name but isn’t actually a town or city, it was most likely created by or for stupid people. Circuit City? Extinct. Food City? Dumbest grocery store name ever. Same rule applies for larger-scale terms, like “nation” (SportsNation) or the oh-so-rare “galaxy” (I’ve seen party supply stores named PartyCity, PartyTown and PartyGalaxy).
At best, these names indicate a serious lack of creativity, and that is what we have with Loud City. “We’ve got to name the upperdeck. What do we call it? It sure is loud up there. Hey! I got it!” Is there something wrong with “The Thundercloud” or “Thunderdome”?
Then I stepped back a bit and thought about it. The area that the arena is in is characterized by brick buildings. You know what it’s called? Bricktown. Nearby, there’s the area known for the stockyards. They named that Stockyards City. We’re in the capital of Oklahoma. They named that Oklahoma City. Seriously, these have to be the least creative people ever. It’s like they gave Dick Vitale a bottle of whiskey and 12 Vicodin, then let him name everything. (It’s Loud City babyyy!) The one shining exception is the Deep Deuce, a historically black neighborhood downtown whose name evolved from its main road of Second Street.
8:12: That said, Loud City is loud as hell. There are all kinds of noisemakers, and people are screaming like hell. And the ceiling is metal, without any kind of paneling or foam to deaden the noise, so the place is built for sound.
8:21: There is constant noise from the speakers. This is a big gripe I have with NBA games. I’ve been to an Atlanta Hawks game where rap music was being blared while the ball was in play, which is just incredible. In OKC, it’s more like incessant chant-starters, like “DE-FENSE” and whatnot. On top of that, everything is a remix. The beat before the defense chant is literally the first two notes from Usher‘s “Yea!” repeated over and over, without the payoff of the next few. This is bigtime musical blue balls. They also use some bastardization of Gwen Stefani‘s “Hollerback Girl” (as if that was possible) in another cheer, there’s a weird Star Wars theme mash-up, and perhaps the worst, they take the “Everybody” from “Everybody Dance Now” and put it with DJ Casper saying “Clap Your Hands” from the “Cha Cha Slide.”
I’d understand a crappy team needing to use annoying Frankenstein mash-ups to convince people to clap, but it seems like the Thunder could draw that by, you know, playing basketball.
8:24: Stephen Jackson hits a shot for the Spurs, who are already in a hole. It is at this moment that I discover Stephen Jackson plays for the Spurs. My overall sports knowledge has been deteriorating at an alarming rate, and it’s amazing how long I’ve been able to get away with it. Once, I was covering a Mariners-Twins game, and I looked up in the second inning to see Carl Pavano pitching for Minnesota. That was how I learned that Pavano was A) Still playing, B) Playing in the game I had been watching, and C) On the Twins. And no one ever knew how oblivious I was. I’m also kind of ashamed of this sometimes. Later on in the Thunder game, I realized former UNC star Danny Green, who I claim to love, is on the Spurs too.
8:26: Nick Collison, a white person, scores.
8:49: The guy next to me, a black dude in his 30s with a Greg Norman-style straw hat, is like the Miss Cleo of predicting made shots. He says things like, “Mmhmm, good shot boy,” or “Oh yea, he made that shit” before the ball even leaves the shooter’s hand. It’s really incredible. He does this for both teams for a span of about five minutes before giving his psychic powers a rest.
And I’ll save you some Wikipedia time. Cleo is still alive, she is no longer a TV spokeswoman, she apparently came out as a lesbian, and she did ads for a South Florida car dealership in 2005.
9:09: It’s halftime, which, of course, means it’s time for the Keith King BMX Stunt Show. Some dudes come out on bikes, shred hard and basically Do The Dew. They’re flipping and all kinds of shit. I don’t know what to call any of it, so let’s just say there were multiple ollie-ollie-can-cans and at least one backside 720 into a pop-shove-it. I’m never sure whether to be impressed with stuff like this, because there are so many people doing insane stuff on bikes and skateboards that I can’t tell if what I’m watching is still cool.
Anyway, I’m half paying attention when the KKBMXSS throws a real curveball at me. Before each rider comes out, they announce him to the crowd. Basic stuff, just name and hometown.
People who know me well know that I’m from Greenville, N.C., and that I always get furious when someone says, “Oh yea, I’ve been there! … Oh no, wait, did you say North Carolina? I’ve been to Greenville, South Carolina.” My Greenville is the bigger Greenville, but since everyone has driven through the S.C. one on the way to visit their grandma in Asheville that one time, it’s more well-known.
The OKC P.A. guy is clearly aware of my pet peeve, because he uses it to ruin a joyous moment. The last rider comes out, and I hear this: “And last but not least, from Greenville, uh…North Carolina, I guess? Austin Hardee!” I checked, and yes, he is from my Greenville. Fun fact for y’all: Greenville is known as “Pro Town” among BMXers. A crapload of them live/lived there, including Dave Mirra and Ryan Nyquist. Jaycee Park, where a young Michael played roller hockey and would ride his bike halfway up a ramp before shakily turning around, was once on a Mirra video game. So do me a favor, and next time someone mentions Greenville, South Carolina, say, “I have a friend from there! Oh, wait, no, he’s from the one where you don’t have to have sex with your sister in order to graduate from middle school.”
9:21: My phone won’t work. How am I supposed to Tweet/Facebook/show all my friends how cool I am? I don’t understand why stadiums and arenas don’t make themselves more cell signal or WiFi-friendly. You would think, especially with social media, that this would present a large number of marketing opportunities. But people can’t check in if their network is jammed up or they can’t connect to the Internet. I’m high enough in the seats that I’m in range of the media wireless connection, so I take about 10 guesses at the password. It appears that all the creative minds in the building were used for this password instead of the Loud City name. I can tell you that it does not fall anywhere between “Thunder” and “balls.”
9:26: I’m flipping through the game profile and reading the Thunder player bios. Each one ends with a quote. Westbrook’s is about running the offense, Durant says he needs to be a leader and aggressive scorer, and Harden wants to be a spark off the bench. Then, we get to my favorite: 6-foot-11 white boy Cole Aldrich, who averaged 6.7 minutes per game: “I think the biggest thing is probably just to stay ready.”
9:47: I finally take a look at my free shirt. First off, it’s XL, just like every other giveaway t-shirt ever. This really pisses me off. Not just because my wispy frame requires mediums, or better yet smediums, but because all these free bigass shirts just send a message that it’s OK to get fat. We should be shaming overweight people with medium shirts (or at least larges) to encourage weight loss — not making me want to stick my head under the nacho cheese faucet to make my free shirt fit (although I guess that’s the ultimate win for the team).
As for the shirt, it says “One OKC,” a kinda-dumb but liveable slogan. However, I can’t understand the line used on a slew of other shirts throughout the arena. Apparently, the Thunder’s motto is “Team is One.” This leads to a ton of shirts — I even saw one in New Orleans after getting back — that say things like “Team is Oklahoma” or “Team is 18,203″ or “Team is OKC.” WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? Between that and Loud City, I’m convinced that Oklahoma City is leading our charge into the future that was laid out in the movie “Idiocracy.”
10:14: The Thunder are up by 25, and the 4th quarter isn’t even half over yet. The benches empty, and I’m out of here.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t mention the game at all, it’s because it was a total and complete ass-kicking where the Spurs didn’t seem remotely interested in competing. I showed up to watch the San Antonio team that everyone had been fellating for the past week, and I got a pile of shit instead. Tim Duncan made a few really impressive passes from the post, and the best moment was probably Manu Ginobili throwing the most casual behind-the-back assist of all time to Tony Parker for a three-pointer. Then the Thunder had an incredible two-minute span filled with three dunks (two alley-oops), but the vast majority of the game was OKC playing with a huge lead, the Spurs sputtering, and everyone constantly complaining about every single thing that the referees did.
If there’s one thing I will take away from my NBA Playoffs experience, it’s bitching about officiating. I know that happens everywhere, but this game took it to a level I have never encountered before. Add in the fact that every Heat game I watch is punctuated by people complaining about LeBron James getting preferential treatment, and I am left with no other conclusion that the NBA is an officiating game show first, a rap concert second, and a basketball league third.
All in all, Oklahoma City loves their Thunder. I saw an insane amount of trucks flying full-sized Thunder flags, and it seemed like every fourth or fifth car had some kind of sticker or magnet. They’ve embraced the team and I’m legitimately happy for them, even if I did have to hold it down for Seattle by never cheering and not wearing the shirt.
I kept it though, cuz hey, it’s a free shirt.