IT smarted when NBA Commissioner David Stern announced that the preseason schedule has been canceled due to the failure to reach a labor accord. But talk that the first two weeks of the regular season could be canceled as early as Monday is much more painful.
Scores of Oklahoma City Thunder fans are starving for their first fix of Thunder fever this season, and it might be postponed until mid-November — or longer. That's tough to take.
To say the Thunder captured the hearts of the city, and even the state, during its playoff run to the Western Conference finals last season would be an understatement. Thunder T-shirts became a hot item, and Thunder signs and car flags popped up across the city. People who had never watched NBA games jumped on the Thunder bandwagon. TV ratings records were shattered, with some local ratings rivaling that of University of Oklahoma football telecasts.
Unfortunately, discussion of what the Thunder will do for an encore this season has been replaced by talk of NBA labor negotiations. The patience of many fans is tested in watching players battle owners for a greater share of the revenue.
If the lockout continues, downtown businesses stand to lose plenty. Hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs in and around downtown have grown accustomed to seeing their receipts increase considerably when the Thunder plays at home.
Jeannette Breckenridge, executive director of the Bricktown Association, said Bricktown would be hurt most midweek because the entertainment district thrives on weekends. “Certainly we love our Thunder, and the activity and the traffic it generates,” she told The Oklahoman's Michael Kimball. “But we're going to grin and bear it and wait and see what happens.”
The city manager's office has said each home game has an estimated $1.28 million direct economic impact on the city. If all 41 home games were wiped out, that would total more than $51.5 million just for the regular season.
The city also would be hurt by losing the Thunder's enormous promotional value. The team's playoff run sparked interest in the city, nationally and internationally. Aerial shots of the new Devon tower and the arena on network telecasts projected an image of a prosperous city. Kevin Durant, among the NBA's most popular stars, has become an ambassador for the city after signing a long-term contract with the Thunder.
But that's beside the point. Lost games would mean fans will lose one of their favorite pastimes: following the Thunder. One can hardly wait to see Durant swish a 3-point shot or Russell Westbrook spin through the lane for a layup. Here's hoping it gets settled soon. We're ready to “Thunder Up!” for another NBA season.