OKLAHOMA CITY — The Thunder arrived in Oklahoma City back in 2008 and have come a long way from that first season when they won just 23 games.
Mayor Mick Cornett says in his wildest dreams, he never thought OKC would be hosting the NBA Finals this soon. It’s been a four-year journey for the Thunder, but a seven-year dream for the city, which began with a storm.
When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, their NBA team, the Hornets, didn’t have a place to play.
“They needed help,” Cornett says, “and so first of all, I was offering our help.”
Cornett was instrumental in getting the Hornets to call OKC home for two seasons.
“At the the same time, I knew that Oklahoma City would have an opportunity, an unprecedented opportunity, to prove whether or not it could host a major league franchise.”
Even though the Hornets went back home, OKC had gained the NBA’s respect, especially after voters approved a $121 million dollar sales tax upgrade to their arena. That paved the way for the Sonics relocating here from Seattle in 2008, and a new identity for the team.
But in that first year, the Thunder won only 23 games. However, their fans didn’t give up on them.
“Regardless of what their record was the first year, the support they got drove them and created the energy to get them where they are,” says Thunder Spokesperson Dan Mahoney.
Two years ago, the Thunder found themselves in the playoffs, losing to the eventual champion Lakers. They went further last year, losing to the eventual champion Mavericks.
Now, less than seven years after welcoming the Hornets, is it their turn to be called champions?
“I really thought it was inevitable,” says Thunder fan Derek Davis, “but who thought it would be this fast?”
The dream is now global. The mayor was recently approached by a woman who had been vacationing in Turkey.
“And she said ‘this morning when I was packing my bags, the porter asked me where I was going,” Cornett recalls, “and I said Oklahoma City, and he said ‘Thunder!'”
Cornett says Thunder Chairman Clay Bennett and General Manager Sam Presti really deserve the credit for building the franchise.
After clinching the Western Conference championship Wednesday night, Bennett told the roaring Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd, “all I can think of is how this incredible group of young men has unified this city, and this state, as never before.
Ed Doney reporting