OKC, usually consumed by mania for Oklahoma and Oklahoma State football, has gone wild for the state’s only major pro team. That’s not unlike Miami, where, given the recent fortunes of the Dolphins and Hurricanes, Heat fever is contributing to the high temperatures.
“This was a college market where your allegiance was defined by which school you supported,” said Oklahoma City Mayor and native Mick Cornett, a former sportscaster who was in the Orange Bowl in 2000 when the Sooners won the national championship. “Now we have one entity everyone can pull for. The players inspire us. We’ve watched this group grow from one of the worst in the NBA. It’s not the same as the emotional bonding we felt after the Murrah Building bombing 17 years ago, but it has similarities.”
The Thunder is perceived as sentimental favorite. Three years ago they began the season 3-29. The Thunder chaplain even gave a sermon Sunday entitled “Don’t Underestimate Me” based on the Bible story of David vs. Goliath. The Oklahoman ran a mockup Monday of the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely-Hearts Club Band” album cover with photos of the Big 3 plus Coach Erik Spoelstra headlined “The Heatles.”
But recall that the OKC franchise was ripped from its longtime home in Seattle when residents refused to pay for a new $300 million arena for Sonics owner and Starbucks multi-millionaire founder Howard Schultz. City leaders wouldn’t capitulate despite threats that the team would depart. (Sound familiar? Or should we say unfamiliar?)
Oklahoma businessmen Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon, with encouragement from NBA Commissioner David Stern, bought the team. McClendon bragged that “to the great amazement and surprise of everyone in Seattle, some rednecks from Oklahoma, which we’ve been called, made off with the team.” Seattle fans remain bitter. They are raising their soy lattes for Miami to win the best-of-seven series.
Somehow Oklahoma City is thought of as earnest underdog while Miami is the all-style, no-substance team of rootless mercenaries, yet OKC is favored to prevail in six.
Don’t fall for the simplistic matchup of sympathetic vs. unsympathetic. The Thunder and Heat, and their cities, have very much in common. They have the only thing that matters in common: They want to win.