Friday, June 22, 2012

10 Things the Thunder Taught Me

   Our Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team played an incredible season this year and also took our city, really our entire state and beyond, on a thrilling and memorable ride through the NBA Finals.

   Late last night they saw a bitter end to all of their hard work, losing the championship title to the Miami Heat, but they certainly did not lose any fans. They have, in fact, cemented their fan base with their dignity, talent, sportsmanship, and sheer entertainment value. I'd love to take a few minutes to honor them.

   Now, honestly, before this Thunder season, none of our friends and family would have dubbed either Handsome or me as an avid "sports fan," but now I wouldn't miss a game for anything and I already cannot wait for next season! Now, I ride the emotional roller coaster of every victory and every defeat, and now I am beginning to understand the plethora of sports metaphors that have eluded me all these years.

   For those of you who might not know, our team mascot is a buffalo. Kinda perfect, huh? Above is Rumble, the OKC Thunder bison who walks on two legs, sometimes on stilts even, and helps bring the crowd to boiling point game after game. He is a dancin man. Err, buff.

   And you all know Chunk-hi, our own little bison. He walks on four legs, never on stilts, but he also froths us up on a regular basis and can dance if the music is just right. Like Rumble, Chunk-hi prefers hip hop or rap. Loud.

   Oklahoma City home games are becoming widely known as unsurpassed in fan support. The events are always sold out and packed with entertainment;  the crowd is always ridiculously loud and energetic; and I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who regrets bringing this team here, who still doubts that we could support a professional basketball franchise, in terms of either money or morale. In a few short years the Thunder have become part of our civic identity, and we love them. We love them collectively as the tightly knit team that they are, and we love them individually. 

Hello Mr. Collison... Do you rebound ferociously here often?

   One of my favorite things to do during this Finals month has been to ask people "Who's your favorite Thunder player?" Do you know what happens? No one can name just one guy. Everyone starts with one player, then adds another, then another, then another, often names in tandem. It seems that the Thunder plays so cooperatively with each other that fans have a difficult time separating them. I think that is awesome! At this rate, they can only increase in their connectedness and maturity as a basketball machine.

   Do you see the score and the timer? Handsome and I were at this game, you guys. I have searched my thesaurus for words to describe the feeling but sit here empty handed. The Thunder won by the way, 149-140, after two bloody, sweaty, screaming overtime battles. That guy there is Russel Westbrook. He is one incredible athlete and never boring to watch. I love how he celebrates on court!

   Okay, I have to share some things I have picked up from the Thunder this year. Some life-applicable things I see that the best of sports can teach us, even those of us who are a little late to the sports metaphor game.

  1. Positiveness: Head Coach Scott Brooks is known for his calm, positive, forward-looking approach. I have nothing to add to this. It's simply the way to live, you guys.
  2. Focus: Brooks has also trained his team to view each game as solitary. Whether the preceding match was a win or a loss, all that matters is right now. Working to a certain extent with blinders on seems to serve this team very well, and I imagine it would serve us well too.
  3. The entire effort matters. We have watched the Thunder change the course of a basketball game in the final seconds, proving over and over again that it is never over until it's over. OKC viewers have joked for weeks about how many nails have been bitten off and how many people are on heart calming meds during the games. Follow through, follow through, follow through.
  4. Learn to tune out noisy feedback, both positive & negative. This is a tough one, both to digest and to apply, but it might be the strongest bit of advice I have personally gleaned from this season. The Thunder certainly express gratitude to their fans on a regular basis, but they also make it clear that they are not playing for media service or talking-heads approval. They play for their coach, for each other, and for victory. Period.
  5. Hospitality counts. Oklahomans are a bit divided over this topic, but I have to mention the Charles Barkley thing. If you don't know what I'm talking about and want to chat, let me know. My take away is that southern graciousness goes a very long way, in many directions.
  6. Study your opponent, then credit them. Nearly every Thunder game has been wildly different, because their opponents have been so different. Our guys start each game playing hard, then they begin to learn the other team's game and adapt immediately. The Thunder flexibility and evolving powers are pretty impressive. They also finsh each game, win or lose, with honorable and appreciative comments about their rivals. How many of us can boast the same?
  7. Speaking of honor, Play clean & honorably. Our guys can walk away from this season with their heads held high, knowing they are watched under microscopes and still regarded around the globe as a clean, honest, noble team. Everyone can learn from this, no matter your walk in life. How you play is more important than the outcome.
  8. See today's value and tomorrow's potential in each other and commit to that despite (once again) outside noise. How many times do we hear post game comments from our players, highlighting not themselves but each other? And Coach Brooks' adamant support of his relatively immature (but clearly talented) players is flat out inspirational. 
  9. Age is just a number. Thunder players are among the youngest and the oldest in the NBA, and they play together seamlessly. Enough said.
  10. No excuses. Even when supporters were making excuses for one thing or another, with the best intentions of course, the Thunder never did. I only ever heard them acknowledge errors and learning experiences, even when most people would have allowed them a public gripe session. To me, this is more testament to their incredible sportsmanship. It is also a needed reminder to us of the Oklahoma standard.

   Sincerest congratulations to head coach Scott Brooks, to all of his staff, and to every single Thunder player. You conducted yourselves as gentlemen; you played magically; and you gave Oklahoma another thousand or so wonderful reasons to be proud. We wish you all a happy, healthy off season and cannot wait to welcome you back to the spotlight! Thank you for all of this and more!

Your Newest Fan


  1. I remember feeling exactly the same way about the Blue Jays (baseball) team back in the 90's. We saw them grow into an amazing team and took 2 World Series. It was so much fun being part of the excitement.

    But to be a true fan you have to endure 45+ years of losing seasons as my beloved Maple Leafs hockey team have done. Still love them even though I know there won't be a Stanley Cup in Toronto in my lifetime (that gives them another 30+ years).

    Sorry the Thunder lost - they put on a valient effort and it was fun watching.

  2. Lessons we could all use to apply across the board, yes? Well said, M.

  3. Wow, what a wonderful guide to life! I admit all this time I've been hearing about OKC Thunder from my Okie friends, I thought y'all were talking about college ball. My apologies. I am not a basketball person. (I am a huge football fan, though. Go Broncos!) Anyway, I love what you've said here about your coach. These are great philosophies. I especially love the one about tuning out positive and negative feedback. It really applies to blogging and writing, for me.

    I'm gonna google the Barkley thing now, as I have no idea.


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