As I understand it, for a long time, Oklahoma was a state divided. In many ways, it still is. The Oklahoma State University vs. University of Oklahoma rivalry is engrained in the hearts of almost everyone native to this state.
There’s a team that trumps this rivalry – the one professional sports team in the state. The Oklahoma City Thunder. Where most professional teams source their pride in the city they live in, the Thunder are a source of pride and unity for the entire state of Oklahoma. Finally, after living in-state for almost two years, I was able to attend a game. It was absolutely as incredible as I thought it would be.
I went to the OKC Thunder game as part of my internship with a learning community program. After all the students filed onto the bus, we took off, arriving in Bricktown around 5pm. Just in time for some delicious nachos at Fuzzy’s Tacos.
After the nachos, the group I was with meandered around Bricktown for awhile before heading towards Chesapeake Arena and Thunder Alley.
Thunder Alley is the street in front of Chesapeake Arena (often affectionately called the Thunder Dome). Before games, it is blocked off and there is a host of entertainment, giveaways and people decked out in Thunder gear. It is absolutely incredible to see a street lined with blue, and I am sure it gets more packed out as the season comes to a close.
There is a vibrant energy in Thunder Alley, a stirring sense of unity occasionally broken by OSU or OU gear. The night I went there were two young men in Lakers gear, which I did not even understand, because the Thunder were playing the Spurs.
We entered the arena a bit later than planned – a student was running late – and missed the pre-game show. There was still 20 minutes before the game started as we climbed the narrow stairs to the top of Loud City. At first I shook a little because I am terrified of heights, but I got used to it.
After the Spurs starting players were introduced, the stadium got dark. Dashes of rain floated across the screen that circles the arena as disco balls reflected light that flickered like drops of rain hitting the ground. Sounds of thunder lightly echoed through the stadium as brief flashes of light entranced the audience. Glimpses of Thunder players scroll by – a portrait and an action shot – then they lights go up just slightly as Phillip Phillips “Home” starts playing over a montage of Oklahoma. It starts with signs from big cities – Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman, and suddenly there are smaller cities mixed in. Some that I have heard of, some that are completely new to me. In this moment, I felt some slight pride for having lived in Oklahoma. Friends from home have mocked me – mostly jokingly, I think – for living in fly-over state. But this place is incredible. Seeing the unity of all these cities come together for this one team reminded me how incredible Oklahoma is.
As the game started, one of the RAs I was sitting with let us know that it is tradition to stand from the beginning of the game until the first score by the Thunder.
“This could take awhile,” I muttered.
“No, it’ll be pretty quick,” he said.
We sat down after twenty second, and after 45 the Thunder had already scored twice.
The game seemed to go by pretty quickly. During time-outs, crowd involvement, on-screen videos and other activities were perfectly organized and timed – so much that if anything did go wrong, I certainly did not notice it.
The Thunder were ahead by close to twenty points for the majority of the game. Going into the last five minutes or so, the Spurs caught up and were a three-pointer away from tying the game up. The tension built as the audience cheered more, and louder. Boos were more passionate every time the Spurs got a free throw, silence was more intense when the Thunder got a free throw. At the last second, the Thunder brought the score to 100, crushing the Spurs 88 points.
As we exited the arena, I noticed the vibrant energy. Everyone was happy and smiling and chatting about this or that. I walked with a crowd through the street back to Bricktown.
“If we had lost, it would be very quiet and somber outside,” the RA commented, and I noted that.
Thank you, Oklahoma City, for a fantastic game experience.