OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — He rides through Thunder Alley like a king, or maybe the captain of a ship. “I like the atmosphere,” says Kenny Keels. “I guess I like the attention too because I’m a Leo.”
He calls himself Captain Thunder and composes himself in a way that inspires nothing if not confidence. He doesn’t cheer. He doesn’t dance. His is the persona inspired by a winning basketball team. “I kind of have a Superman attitude,” he explains. “If people want to take pictures, I don’t smile.”
His wife calls him Kenny when she wants him to clean out the flower beds in the front yard on OKC’s northeast side. Keels was always a little too short to play basketball. He was a singer and a promoter for a while. He picked horses at Remington Park where Kenny earned the nickname ‘Okie Red’. “When you come to Oklahoma City you get a name,” he says.
His alter ego hit him like a lightning bolt from ‘Thunder’ blue during last year’s playoffs. Kenny bet his wife he could get on TV. He found an old bike in the shed, dug up an old captain’s cap, and bought a cape and mask at a costume shop. That’s how Captain Thunder was born. “And away I went,” he says. “The rest is history. I just do it. Some folks think I’m crazy.”
He arrives at Thunder Alley on two wheels but the captain doesn’t usually go into the Chesapeake Arena. Like a lot of Thunder fans, he finds the Alley more to his speed and more affordable too. Keels makes a pregame appearance then heads home to watch the game on TV. “It’s something I enjoy,” he says. “Then this neighborhood is where I belong.”
Back in his front yard Captain Thunder isn’t needed to solve the mystery of how a dress shoe ended up beneath the rose-bush. Keels hopes it belongs to his wife but some mysteries might be better left unsolved. Along the crowded ‘Alley’ though, the Captain is on patrol. If his team needs him he’s ready. “You can look for me,” he says. “I’m going to be there.”