Column where I officially jump on the bandwagon and become an Oklahoma City Thunder fan.
Earlier this year I wrote a column about needing a favorite NBA team. Secretly I was always going to be an Oklahoma City Thunder fan because that’s the team I’ve supported ever since they drafted Kevin Durant and moved to Oklahoma City. While talking to Steve Cook for a podcast this week, we officially declared the Thunder as our NBA team.
Is it bandwagon jumping considering that we made this decision while the Thunder were up 3-2 in the West Conference Finals? Possibly. Does it matter as long as we continue to support the team for years to come? Nope. Not that I expect many hard times with this team in the coming years given their talent level and age. It seems very possible that this team wins not one, not two, not three, not four…..
It’s pretty easy to see why the Thunder are such a likable team and so easy to root for, but in case you just like to focus on negative stories, I’ll go ahead and spell it out for you anyway. This is a team, much like the San Antonio Spurs dynasty, that was put together through the draft and smart trading. They weren’t superstars who were friends and decided to play together in order to win championships. They were young guys who were forced to play together and became friends and are now in a great position to win championships. There were no lopsided trades that helped build this team. There was obviously some luck involved. The Portland Trail Blazers gift wrapped Durant at #2 in the 2007 draft. They took Russell Westbrook at #4 in the 2008 draft when most experts had them taking Brook Lopez and then took a big man late in the first round by selecting Serge Ibaka. Everyone thought they would take Ricky Rubio in the 2009 draft and move Westbrook over to the two guard, but instead they took James Harden and slotted him as their shooting guard. Anytime you build almost exclusively through the draft, there is always a little luck involved, but there’s also a lot of unsung credit given to the scouts and general manager Sam Presti, who realize that these guys would’ve been good fits for the team they were trying to put together.
This team genuinely likes each other and their coach. People wanted to create a rift between Durant and Westbrook, but I never bought into that. I looked at that as just growing pains between two brothers who wanted the best for each other. They may have had some heated exchanges on the court, but name me two superstar teammates who didn’t yell at each other on the court. Off the court though, you never heard about them not getting along. Even in post-game interviews, they never said anything bad about each other or threw one another on the bus. A lot of that is thanks to Durant and his personality, but for everyone who says that Westbrook is erratic and a head case, they just have their on-court blinders on. A lot of credit has to be given to head coach Scott Brooks as well, because he’s grown with this team as well. He had no prior head coaching experience before taking over in 2008, but he was given a chance to coach up Durant, Westbrook, Harden, etc…, grow with them, and learn from his mistakes with them instead of being replaced by a veteran coach who could use his experience to teach those guys.
Another thing that makes the Thunder great is the Oklahoma City crowd. I think giving the crowd the same t-shirt can be a little lame if the crowd doesn’t embrace “being one” but the OKC crowd definitely does. Compare the OKC crowd to the Miami crowd, who also does the “we are one” thing with the t-shirt gimmick and has a winning team, and there is no comparison. The Miami crowd shows up late and leaves early. The OKC crowd shows up early and leaves late. In fairness to the Miami crowd though, there is a lot more to do in Miami compared to Oklahoma City.
The difference between a team like Oklahoma City and San Antonio is their style of play and recognizability. San Antonio became an up-tempo team this year, but throughout their run they were predicated on defense and a “boring” style. They were also, by design and personality, a rather sheltered team when it came to the media. The Thunder not only play a fun style, but they don’t hide from the media either. Kevin Durant is all over TV with his Sprint commercial, Durant and Harden did a commercial with Kate Upton, and they never shy away from media interviews.
Of course exciting style of play, being media savvy, having superstars, etc… means nothing if the team isn’t winning games. The Thunder are winning games and doing it in style. Durant is the best scorer in the NBA and now arguably the most clutch player in the league. Honestly, if I could have anyone taking the last shot of the game for me, I’d want Durant. People said Westbrook wouldn’t work, but he’s become a better distributor, he plays hard on both ends, and the Thunder need his scoring to be successful. Harden is outstanding as a sixth man and would be the starter and second best player on many other teams. Despite being named the sixth man of the year and getting plenty of accolades, I still think he’s underrated in what he does. He’s so smart offensively, knows when he needs to drive to the basket, recognizes when he has a good match up to take a shot, and, like Durant and Westbrook, isn’t afraid. Then they have Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka, who are defensive studs and Ibaka can contribute offensively. Plus their bench is one of the best in the league and was helped out even more with the addition of Derek Fisher.
Everyone labeled the Thunder as too young and inexperienced, and while their birth certificates say those people are right, the way they play says those people are wrong. Lets not forget that they went to the Conference Finals last year and lost to the eventual champs. They also knocked off the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers, the last three NBA champions, en route to facing the Spurs in this years conference finals. And even though they only lost once in the first two rounds, a number of those games were close and came down to the final couple of minutes.
They were battle tested when they faced the Spurs, and even though they lost the first two games, they responded at home by making the proper adjustments to take the next four. Even when they clinched the series and the West Conference championship, they still didn’t seem satisfied. Flashback to last year when the Miami Heat beat the Chicago Bulls in the East Finals. They celebrated like they had just won the title. The Thunder celebrated like they just beat the best team in the west, but still had to win four more games.
If my Thunder win the title this year, expect many more titles in the near future. And if they don’t win the title, expect them to learn from their mistakes in the Finals and come back even stronger next year.