Oklahoma City set to become regular NBA June stop
Oklahoma City was once just a temporary stop for the NBA.
Needing a home after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the
New Orleans Hornets came to play in a city that was desperate for a
major sports franchise of its own.
The Hornets eventually went back home, but now Kevin Durant and
the rest of the young Thunder might make Oklahoma City an annual
With a young core and smart management providing a chance for
lasting success, there’s a good chance this isn’t the last time the
NBA Finals will be here.
And the Heat might be one of the teams frequently coming
”Everybody’s saying it’s a dream finals,” Miami’s Chris Bosh
said. ”I was like, dang, let’s keep it going, give the people what
they want to see.”
It’s not quite that simple.
Tough decisions will have to be made – tougher now, with new
spending rules – and players who seem content in this quiet city
now may feel differently in a few years. So the Thunder, who
brought a 1-0 lead into Thursday night’s game, weren’t counting on
another chance if they didn’t take advantage of this one.
”We can’t think too far down the line,” Durant said. ”Of
course, everybody else is going to think that since we’re a young
team. But we don’t want to use that and say that we can give this
one away because we’re going to be there in the long run. We’ve got
to take advantage of these opportunities. They’re not guaranteed.
We’ve just got to come out and be us, man, and have fun with the
game. That’s all we really want to do is have fun and also play
That’s what the Thunder have been doing while quickly creating
one of the NBA’s most passionate fan bases.
Oklahoma, previously known mostly as home to some big-time
college programs when it came to sports, wanted to have the
professional game in its capital city, and NBA Commissioner David
Stern remembers the first time Mayor Mick Cornett approached him
about bringing a team here.
”I said, `You really ought to pursue another league,”’ Stern
But the commissioner was impressed with all the construction
that was being done within the city and its recovery from the 1995
terrorist bombing at a federal building. And when the Hornets
needed a place to go after their city’s tragedy, Stern recommended
Oklahoma City to former Hornets owner George Shinn.
The Hornets departed after a two-year stay, but the NBA was back
just two years later after owner Clay Bennett moved the Seattle
SuperSonics to his home state. General manager Sam Presti
constructed a contender through the draft, with Durant, Russell
Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka all 23 or younger.
The Heat have gone another route, aiming for free agency in 2010
and coming out a big winner, signing LeBron James and Bosh while
keeping Dwyane Wade. They’ve reached both NBA Finals since.
”It was interesting as a fan to watch that team being
constructed, the Big Three and those around it, and it’s very
interesting to see the Thunder and the way they’ve been
constructed,” Stern said. ”And it’s also interesting to see the
way the state of Oklahoma has taken to these Oklahoma City Thunder.
It’s very rewarding that the NBA could play a part in really the
growth and literally the excitement that this city that has
suffered so much is seeing and having.”
Durant and Westbrook, plus the Heat’s Big Three, all have
long-term deals. The trick for the Thunder will be re-signing both
Harden and Ibaka, who can become restricted free agents this
summer, which became more difficult with the terms of the
collective bargaining agreement that was signed to end the
The NBA didn’t get the hard salary cap it sought, which would
have prevented teams from exceeding the cap limit, but did get a
much more severe luxury tax which could make it too penal for all
but perhaps the highest-profiting teams to go over that
Similarly, the Heat will face salary considerations as they try
to tinker with the pieces around their All-Star trio.
”I think there are tons of unintended consequences when you’re
trying to put together an agreement the size of the one we tried to
work out. That was for sure one of our big concerns for any team,
small market or large market,” said the Thunder’s Derek Fisher,
the players’ association president. ”In particular, fans and
communities over time develop relationships with certain guys and
love to see certain guys on certain teams.
”So, as you build up, I guess, impediments to teams being able
to remain the same over time, it makes it difficult.”
So, neither team is willing to look too far into the future
James wouldn’t envision himself becoming a regular June visitor
here, though he did express his admiration for what the Thunder
have developed in Oklahoma City.
”I think it’s a great city,” he said. ”They have unbelievable
fans. You see a lot of Oklahoma City Thunder T-shirts and banners
and things. So it’s great.”
And it looks like it will be great for a while.
AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke contributed to this report.
Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: