There are few things more exciting for a city than the arrival of its first professional franchise. Documenting that story in Oklahoma City is the job of Daily Thunder's Royce Young. He has covered Oklahoma's beloved Sooners for years and now brings that college ball enthusiasm to the pros:
What are you doing with a sports blog?
Honestly, I have no idea. I graduated from the University of Oklahoma last December with a journalism degree and in that scene, bloggers were looked down upon. Now I'm one of them. That's strange. The whole reason I even started one was because I hated the name Thunder and I felt like I had to tell someone. I'm not going to pretend like I'm an NBA expert and that I know Thunder basketball better than anyone, but I like to write and I like sports. It just made sense to start a blog.
What, to you, is the point of a sports blog?
A sports blog to me has always been like a sports specific journal on steroids. It's putting your thoughts about a certain team, sport or player on paper -- er, screen -- and letting the whole world read it. It's also a much needed different perspective on the teams and games we follow. Like I said, I have a journalism background and newspapers and the mainstream media accomplish their job wonderfully, but the blogger also gives an awesome perspective that's fun to read.
While it's cool to read what your team's beat writer has to say, it's also very useful to read what a fellow fan took out of a game. The blogger comes at it from your angle -- he's unabashedly biased and isn't going to apologize for it. It's very refreshing.
You wrote a terrific post hours before the Thunder took the floor on opening night. You were proud for your city, and still a little bit awestruck that pro sports had come to Oklahoma. One item in your post that struck me was your statement, "One year ago, you couldn't pay me to watch 48 minutes of NBA basketball." What did you mean? And what's changed for you? Have you grown to appreciate pro ball, or is it that pride in your hometown that's fueling your interest?
It's funny because after I hit "publish" I immediately regretted that line, because I've watched the NBA for a long time, but I kind of faded away from it and as of a year ago. I couldn't make it through 48 minutes of a regular season matchup of Grizzlies-Raptors. The pro game didn't appeal to me as much because I had always watched the college game. It's not like I ignored pro basketball. I watched it as much as anybody, but a random December matchup of two contenders wasn't something I planned my night around.
I was always what you'd classify as a casual NBA fan because well, I didn't have a team. It's hard to get really passionate about a specific sport if you don't have rooting interest. I played basketball among other sports in high school and I still play with friends -- I love basketball. But since there wasn't anybody in the Association for me to hang my hat on, it was all about Oklahoma Sooner basketball. And I think most of this state would agree with that.
But I will say this: Every since I started writing about the pro game on a daily basis, I've learned a ton. A ton. I watch the game so much more closely and pay attention to the details. I used to think college basketball was far and away more exciting. And while the atmospheres and bands and student sections are pretty awesome, there's a lot to love about the NBA. You can sit with your jaw dropped and drool spilling out just admiring the sheer ability of some of these guys. Only about five or six players in the college game can do that to you. You'll see it on a nightly basis in the NBA. So honestly, it's been a combination of both. Instead of just being a casual observer, I know how a team in my city and that took it to another level.
I'm extremely proud to be an Oklahoman and I dearly love this state. I've lived here my entire life and I definitely feel an incredible amount of pride in my state and everything in it (except Oklahoma State). So being at Opening Night and just feeling the incredible pride everyone had at that moment was special. It was like 19,000 people were saying, "You may think we ride horses to work and the tallest building downtown is a two-story townhouse, but we're for real."
And that felt fantastic.
There's been an incursion of Sonics fans on your site that's been pretty nasty at times. How are you handling that?
I've said it multiple times on the blog, but I'll say it here: I hate the way OKC got a team. Hate it. During the whole process I was cringing. It's like in Unfaithful where Diane Lane cheats on Richard Gere. The whole time you're going, "No, no, no. Don't do that. He's a good guy!" but then Diane Lane's clothes start flying off and you're like, "Ok. I'll watch."
I wanted a team for my state and city, but not this way. And there have been upset people that have come to speak their minds. And for a while, I left it open because I didn't blame them and I felt they deserved a period of airing grievances. They had their team, their childhood obsession and their hearts ripped away from them and moved. I can't imagine the feeling.
But at some point, their anger crossed the line from "Mad the team left" to "Abuse everything Oklahoma City to aid their ailing heart." And that's not fair. We didn't move the team. We just go to the games. I didn't pack any U-Hauls. I just write about it. I don't deserve any hate and anger directed at me just because a team that used to be in your city is now in mine. Like I said, I realize it totally sucks and isn't fair. But that's not my problem. Enough was enough.
You covered the Sooners for the Oklahoma Daily at OU. Will the Thunder ever be able compete with Big-12 athletics for the hearts and minds of Oklahomans?
This has been a topic of discussion amongst my buddies for a while.
The simple answer is no. Nothing will ever, ever come close to Oklahoma football in this state. It's just not going to happen. It's king. No question. The thing is, it's weird right now to have a professional team. The Thunder aren't a "brand name" in Oklahoma yet. It's not something where you say "Thunder" in line at 7-11 and the guy next to you says, "Oh yeah, how about that Chucky Atkins trade?" You go to a restaurant Saturday night and all the TVs would have the Cardinals-Panthers game on, not the Thunder-Rockets game. It takes time and it takes wins to establish yourself to a new fan base. And as rabid as this city is already, once it REALLY happens, it will be bananas. We're not like some mega-metropolis that's been waiting on a pro team for years. But now it's a reality and we're trying to get used to it. We're trying to get past the "Cool! Kobe is coming to town tomorrow!" and start thinking, "Hey, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green are playing here every night."
But now the team is here and it's like, "OK, what do we do now
?" We go to the games, we root them on but it's not our team yet. That takes time. Though I personally just started to feel the transition a few weeks ago when Carmelo Anthony hit that buzzer-beater to beat OKC 122-120. That kind of hurt. I thought OKC had won a great game and then BOOM, it was over. I never, ever felt that way after a Hornets game. That whole thing was pure novelty and if they lost a tight one it was, "Oh well." It's different with the Thunder.
In three years if this team makes a run into the playoffs and starts competing then I think it could sit side-by-side with everything but Sooner football. This is new to us right now. We're like the hyped up rookie shooting guard that's trying to find his way with the big boys that are already household names in the league. It will take time for the Thunder to establish their brand in the state. But it will happen soon and when it does, it will be a fun time to be a basketball fan in Oklahoma City.
It's been a tough first year for the Thunder. Honeymoon aside, how are you coping?
Oklahoma City fans are in a strange place right now. With the team playing so much better in 2009, it's almost like we don't even notice the 13-41 record. The brightness of the future is blinding us from seeing our current state. Which is a great thing. It's much more fun to think of what could be rather than what is.
There were some tough times early on where we were left wondering what we got ourselves into. A 14-game losing streak, crushing losses and basically just looking helpless. At times during early games, you'd actually worry about scoring the next basket. It was that bad. But things got better and now the team is playing pretty darn good. We finally get a chance to see what could be. We have a potential great one in Kevin Durant and we feel incredibly lucky to get to watch him. Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook are tough, athletic guys that are a blast to watch. So even with the team struggling for wins, they struggle in a fun way -- if that makes sense.
Of course, you want more wins so in that respect, it is a little disappointing, but it also doesn't matter. There's pro basketball in Oklahoma and we can forgive losses right now. In three years, that might not be the case, but right now, the ride is all that matters. And so far, the ride is pretty dang fun.