The Oklahoma City Thunder remains alive in the NBA playoffs, but the team's watch parties in Thunder Alley are on the verge of elimination.
At least eight people were wounded by gunfire, and a pregnant woman was injured following the Thunder's 106-90 playoff victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals Monday night.
Shots were fired about three blocks east of a Thunder Alley watch party, which occupied Reno Avenue between Chesapeake Arena and the Cox Convention Center.
“This ever-growing game night crowd that gathers on the street outside the building, that can't continue,” Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said Tuesday. “There are too many public safety concerns. As much as we love the expression of enthusiasm, it's no longer a workable situation.”
Watch party added for playoffs
Thunder Alley originally was an occasional pregame party that included interactive games, concessions, and merchandise. It began three hours before tipoff and would shut down once the game started.
During this year's playoffs, a watch party was added and fans were invited to bring chairs and blankets to Thunder Alley to view the game on a new video display board — 74 feet tall by 20 feet wide — that was mounted on the northwest side of Chesapeake Arena during recent renovations to the facility.
Crowds initially consisted of 2,000-3,000 people watching the game outside the arena, but swelled to an estimated 6,000-7,000 people on Monday night to watch the Thunder eliminate the Lakers and advance to the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs.
City officials met Tuesday and agreed to discontinue the watch parties in their current form. Cornett said there are several potential alternatives,
Another possibility would be to move the watch party into the arena across the street at the Cox Center, where the Thunder potentially could have two sellouts for the same game.
The Thunder has sold out — 18,203 — every home game this season at Chesapeake Arena.
Thunder Alley itself also could continue in its original form without the watch party.
“We're discussing alternatives to Thunder Alley,” Police Chief Bill Citty said. “You are getting such large crowds that they become uncontrollable. There are some indications that it (the altercation that led to the shooting) may have originated there. The biggest concern we have is the size of the crowds. You can't control that because it is an open area. Everybody is discussing options. The crowd is really a significant concern. You could have something else. Maybe someone gets sick or there is a medical problem. It creates problems.”
Cornett said city officials and the Thunder have yet to discuss possible alternatives.
“We need to hear from the team and what direction they would like to head,” Cornett said. “I'm sure we can come up with something that is workable. We have discussed internally several of those options. I'm sure the team has too, but he haven't gotten together to discuss that yet.”
Dan Mahoney, the Thunder's vice president of corporate communications, said in a statement: “We are saddened to hear of the violence following the game last night. It put a damper on what was otherwise an exciting night for Oklahoma City and the Thunder. We are in communication with the Oklahoma City police department to determine exactly what happened and if there was any way for it to be prevented.
“Our top priority always is to make our games and Thunder Alley safe, fun environments for our fans. We will continue to work closely with law enforcement and the city to review security and crowd control procedures and we stand ready to make any necessary changes to ensure safety.”
Thunder fan Tyler Maxwell of Oklahoma City watched games in Thunder Alley throughout the playoffs, including Monday night.
“It's gotten more and more intense every time we're been out here,” Maxwell said. “The playoffs are (good) for our city, but they're starting to bring violence. I can't imagine what would happen if this was the NBA Finals.”
Tasha Bacon of Oklahoma City watched Monday's game alongside Maxwell.
“We were walking around and every other person was saying, ‘I'm scared,'” Bacon said. “We come down here all the time and have never seen anything like this.”
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call investigators at 297-1126 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. or Crime Stoppers at 235-7300.
“I hope that those individuals that were unfortunately the victims of some terrible behavior after the game that was reported (Monday) night are doing fine, and hope that their recovery will be best,” Ward 7 Councilman Skip Kelly said at Tuesday's city council meeting.
“It's just unfortunate that we have such great things, and then someone creates an atmosphere that causes bodily harm to other citizens. But I think the city of Oklahoma City should be proud of what we've
We were walking around and every other person was saying, ‘I'm scared.' We come down here all the time and have never seen anything like this.”