I've had a soft spot in my heart for OKC ever since Timothy McVeigh tried to rip out its heart and leave a hole in its place. The town resisted being defined by a tragedy while creating a memorial that left even Charles Barkley speechless. Sitting at the commentators' table, he could get no further than powerful before he looked at the camera, straight into the eyes of the viewers, and told them all to get off their duffs and make a special trip to OKC.
"It's worth it... well worth it...," he said.... and he is right. One chair for each lost life, smaller ones for the day care kids, and a portal to move through and out to the other side. I hope the January 8th Memorial planners here in Tucson pay attention to OKC's success.
The similarities between our two towns are striking. Out in the middle of nowhere, an inconvenient airport, a downtown that hopes to be more vibrant, and a tragedy that came out of nowhere on a sunny morning - but OKC has a professional sports team within its midst and therein lies a huge difference. We Tucsonans can cheer for the UofA's Wildcats, but a team bearing our town's name would mean the world to us fans. Alas......
Tucson could use some of that unification right now.... yes, indeed, we could. And what town couldn't? It's reminiscent of the relationship between the Packers and Green Bay, Wisconsin. It's the way Brooklynites felt about their bums, the Dodgers. Zada, a true fan who moved from Galicia to East 93rd Street in the Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn, the third largest city in the USofA, Zada could call them bums. But just let a Yankees fan come anywhere near that appellation.... my mild mannered grandfather would quickly put him in his place. Hometown teams have a tendency to do that to a person... to a town... to a community.
The players, the coach, and the fans of the Thunder all use the same word to describe themselves: family. Kevin Durant, 23 years old and the anchor of the team, ended his first answer to his first question in his first interview after winning the Conference championship with these words: for Oklahoma City. Every interview with every player comes around to the phrase we are doing it for one another.
That's how Tucson felt to me eighteen months ago. We were all in it together, we all cared about and for one another, none of us could let another down. We were Tucsonans, bloodied but unbowed. Last week, listening to the fans drown out the interviews as they chanted OKC...OKC....OKC...OKC... each letter loud and distinct and proud, I was just a little bit jealous.
If you don't know the NBA, you can climb on the bandwagon of a young man who loves his mother (she sits courtside at every game, often the only voice her son can hear, always the first person he greets after the final buzzer sounds) with nary a qualm. No one will doubt you if you say "I just like Kevin Durant." Add a sage nod and a big smile and you'll look like you really know.
Want some more? The Thunder play hard every night, on young legs, without carrying a lot of baggage in their wake. They are competing against the team created around LeBron James... the Miami Heat... the team that lured Cleveland's superstar away with the promise of friends and a championship opportunity.
It's an interesting dynamic, thinking of LeBron as the older guy. I suppose, out of loyalty to Cleveland-born-and-raised TBG, I'd be cheering for anyone but LeBron right now. But the Thunder stole my heart and I'm betting they take the series in 5 games.
A girl can always hope, can't she?
Addendum: The Thunder won the first game, 105-94. There's plenty of room on the band wagon, should you want to hitch a ride.