Saturday night, donning a Tim Duncan jersey and a throwback Spurs fitted cap, I witnessed, as a Spurs fan, firsthand Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. While it was a great experience, I’m not really tempted to try and get tickets for Game 6. It’s easy to cope with a loss in the comfort of your own home, but with 18,203 rubbing it in your face? That’s just not worth the headache.
Headache may be an understatement. Along with the millions of other things the Chesapeake Energy Arena staff handed out last night, I accrued a migraine and a lighter wallet that are still impacting me today. But overpriced concession stand items and excessively loud Thunder fans aside, going to a Thunder home game is definitely something you don’t forget.
It is one of the most unique home crowds in the NBA, and when commentators repeatedly talk about the “college atmosphere” the Thunder have, it truly is for good reason. The appropriately named “Loud City” pretty much is the Cameron Crazies meets professional basketball. Coincidentally, the Thunder just so happen to wear blue and white as well.
Which by the way, the checkerboard blue and white out is cool. It’s a step up from the usual single color t-shirt giveaway. While I still find it overused by the Thunder, it adds to the atmosphere. They just need to fire the writer who comes up with what goes on the t-shirts. I like the effort, and not just putting a Thunder logo, but “Team is 18,203?” No. Just no.
However, before I start criticizing the Thunder organization and their marketing strategies any further, let me take you through my night.
Phase 1: Thunder Alley
On a lovely night in downtown OKC, as I stepped out of my car I was greeted by a man “looking for tickets,” so naturally, I already knew it was going to be a great evening after being harassed by ticket scalpers literally two seconds after arriving to the arena.
Now usually I am the type of person who wants to get to their seats as quickly as possible, because I am a huge basketball nerd and find entertainment out of watching guys shoot around an hour before tipoff. However, I was feeling a little bit adventurous and decided I would check out Thunder Alley. With all the new restrictions on this block party that takes place on Reno, there were not as many people clogging up the condensed area. Which made me a happy Joe, for the time being.
From what I saw, it seemed like a good time for kids. A mini basketball court was set up for two kids at a time to shoot around, and I’m assuming for prizes of some sort. Of course, the Thunder had a merchandise booth for fans to waste $30 on a t-shirt with Kevin Durant’s face on it. Also, I’m pretty sure I saw a moon bounce. The big attraction for me, though, was TNT’s pre-game show. Not really to stick around for the entire thing, because it was impossible to hear anything they said, even with the speakers that pointed toward the crowd.
And getting there 30 minutes before they even began their broadcast, we did get fairly close to the crew. And the waiting wasn’t too bad. I trolled some Thunder fans, especially this one girl who was handing out rally towels to everyone in Thunder Alley. I mean I thought it was nice the Thunder saw my tweet that Oklahoma City would need towels instead of t-shirts to wipe up their tears after the Spurs took a 3-1 lead. But obviously, Saturday they got the last laugh.
Anyway, as you would expect, Ernie Johnson was the only one out there for the longest time. Barkley arrived a few minutes before the show started, and the Jet and Shaq got there the minute the show started it seemed. So we saw the crew go to work, but after about five minutes of looking at the back of four bald headed men, it was time to head in. That was an adventure in itself.
Everyone filing in at the same time was not the most enjoyable thing in the world. Especially when you finally get to the front, and you get randomly metal-detected by a lady who wants to know everything that is in your pocket. Understandable considering the shooting that took place during the Thunder-Lakers series. But we all got in with no problems, and had 20 minutes to spare before tip.
Phase 2: Minutes Before Tip
Past the ticket scanner, there’s one more person I had to get past before I could get to my seats. To add to the rally towel I collected in Thunder Alley, there were multiple people handing out paper noisemakers to those immediately entering the lobby. So after getting heckled from the girl who handed me one, we went up a one flight of stairs, and boom, we were in our seats and ready for some good playoff basketball.
Before the ball tipped, though, OKC performed their pre-game prayer and National Anthem. But I must say I was a little disappointed with the introductions and what not. I have been to a few a Thunder games before, and the last being the Spurs-Thunder regular season match-up in March. And from what I have seen, the Thunder did not change anything with their pre-game routine. I mean this is the Western Conference Finals! Spice things up!
Maybe it’s a conservative thing, not wanting to change what’s won the Thunder so many home games this season and not one home loss in the playoffs, but it’s the same old routine. They do the starters for the away team, dim the lights, make it look and sound like the middle of a thunder storm, have Rumble come out the OKC Thunder flag, do the Thunder lineups, and then Rumble takes a drum out to mid court and gets a slow clap going.
I would just like to see something different. Maybe the Thunder use all their flash when their throwing up alley-oops like it’s going out of style, but beef up on the entertainment. It just seemed like they could have upped the ante. Overall it is kind of cool looking, but go all out for the playoffs. Although, it’s not like this will be their last chance. They will have plenty of years to improve.
Phase 3: Game Time
I am not going to talk much about the game itself, because honestly, unless you are part of the media and have a good view and a laptop to keep up with stats, it’s hard to dissect games you see in person. You don’t have commentators keeping you informed on calls or players’ statuses. Instead you have 18,203 people reminding you every freaking second that the Spurs are losing.
That crowd is something else. They are about as loud and crazy as they come, and I can respect that. They are not obnoxious by any means, they are just really supportive of their team. Although … a few complaints.
First off, Thunder fans love standing. I have no problem standing, because I do that for 3-4 hours at college football games. However, Chesapeake Energy Arena offers relatively comfy seats to sit in, but during the playoffs, Oklahoma City fans are just way too in to the game to be sitting. With all the alley-oops, dunks, and three pointers they make, there’s no reason to sit, because they know they’ll be right out of their seats after every Thunder point.
Second, if you don’t know the rules of basketball, you have no right to be screaming at a referee. Especially when they can see it a lot better than you can. Obviously, these officials this series haven’t called it down the line, but fans never want to believe their team commits a foul, or travels, or the ball never hits their team last as it’s going out of bounds. It just gets really old, but this goes for any arena and is not unique to the Thunderdome and its loyal fans.
Finally, just a little message to the Thunder fans: LeBron james won the MVP. Maybe it was because the Spurs were down, but I couldn’t help but shake my head at the Oklahoma City fans that chanted M-V-P as Kevin Durant stepped up to the free throw line. While KD had my vote for the award, LeBron got it, and I don’t really have a problem with James getting the award. Just move on OKC fans, and learn from the Spurs, focus on the big picture: a NBA championship.
Phase 4: The Aftermath
So after the streamers were dropped, and Thunder fans were exiting the arena, there I sat, palm in face, with “I Gotta Feeling” blaring inside the ‘Peake, and needed a minute to cool off. The Spurs were so close, but the Thunder pulled away in the final minutes. As I said, that home crowd is something else, and they honestly give Oklahoma City an edge.
Anyway, my buddies and I waited a little after the game for the 18,000 fans to clear out. This gave us time to go get a closer look at the TNT Crew’s “Inside the NBA” following each game. Once again, it’d be awesome if they did it like College Gameday and actually allowed people to hear what they were saying, but the Thunder clean-up crew would probably rather fans get the hell out of there and have no incentive to over stay their welcome.
It was a smart move waiting a little bit after the final buzzer. It wasn’t as bad getting out, and if I only I took the picture with my camera, there was a blue storm trooper with a Thunder logo on its chest taking pictures outside of the door we exited. I’ll admit, some of these Thunder fans go pretty hard with their outfits.
All in all, it was a fun experience. A few Thunder fans gave me some grief, but the Thunder fans, as I well know, are for the most part classy. That is the Oklahoma way, as Lil Wayne can certainly attest to.
Though, as I mentioned, I am not going to lose any sleep over Game 6 tickets. It would be cool if I got to see them win the West in person, but we have to take care of business Monday, first. Nothing is a guarantee, and with the Thunder’s arrival in this series, the West is up for grabs, and honestly, it all comes down to who wants it more.