A little over four years ago, somehow, inexplicably, Oklahoma City became a professional basketball franchise town. The Oklahoma City team used to be the Seattle Supersonics, until a group of Oklahoma City investors bought the team and moved it to the heartland in 2008. Last weekend, upon the invitation from my father, I attended my first ever NBA game.
Admittedly, I am not a huge basketball fan. The last time I attended or watched basketball games on a semi-regular basis was over 10 years ago as a graduate student at Fort Hays State University. Go Tigers!
So here are some random perceptions of the high-dollar world of NBA basketball.
Marketing, marketing, marketing … the Oklahoma City Thunder owners have done an excellent job of marketing this team to the state and region. The Thunder held an exhibition game in Wichita in the pre-season to build its fan base here in Kansas. From the minute you walk into the Chesapeake Energy Arena until you leave, you enter a fast-paced world of orange and blue followed by one advertisement after another. Everybody wants a piece of that pie, and you can’t blame them. After all, the team advanced all the way to the NBA Finals last season, ultimately losing to the LA Lakers.
Promotions ruled the time outs and end of quarter breaks, including ones like the following: a beach ball drop which provided an opportunity to win food from Homeland, a grocery store, by catching beach balls dropped from the ceiling of the arena. A parachute drop had a Thunder T-shirt as its cargo and included a free subscription to the Daily Oklahoman. A Cox Communications 4 point timed shooting contest provided a Cox bundle of services to the winner. The team’s mascot, Rumble, and his helpers also loaded a Gatlin-gun type device full of Thunder T-shirts and shot them into the crowd, with some reaching amazing heights, almost up into the nosebleed section where our seats were located. Game breaks also featured a Kiss Cam, a Dance Cam, and a Smile Cam, to name a few, all of which had corporate sponsorships. Fans were guaranteed to not miss a minute of the game, thanks to television sets strategically placed in the rest rooms.
As I mentioned earlier, the game proceeded at a brisk pace, with the sideshow filling in the gaps, so there was never a dull moment. Halftime featured a performance by a very talented Seattle breakdancing group called the Massive Monkees, which formerly performed during halftime at Supersonics games.
The most difficult part of the game for me was following all of the action from our location high up in the stands. Not having viewed a basketball game for many years, I had difficulty following the penalties, as well as a few shots. All in all, the crowd vocally expressed its commitment to the team—and many people were particularly exuberant supporters. The Thunder did not disappoint, pulling out a win over the Utah Jazz in a game the team led essentially from midway through the first quarter onward.
My first professional basketball game proved to be a fun time. One final highlight happened as we left the arena. A bearded man in a Santa Claus suit entertained the departing crowd with a smooth rendition of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” on his saxophone, pointing his sax in appreciation toward those who dropped a dollar or two into his bucket.
If its current success and support is any indication, the team will likely be thundering through Oklahoma City for many years to come.