With all due respect to the title sponsor of Chesapeake Energy Arena, the word in the middle carries the most clout.
After each pulsating victory or miraculous comeback at home, Thunder team members habitually mention the “energy” they felt coming from their sellout crowd.
“It's a broken record with our crowd,” OKC coach Scott Brooks said. “You know that every game they're going to be there, every night, no matter who we play. It could be the defending champions. It could be a team that has a bad record. They're going to be there.”
Last week's schedule offered the entire spectrum:
*On Monday, the Thunder hosted the world champion Dallas Mavericks, who quickly have become OKC's biggest rival. A sellout was a gimme.
*On Wednesday, the Thunder hosted a hot Phoenix team that had won three straight, five of its last six and is led by one of the best point guards ever in Steve Nash. Though not a gimme sellout, selling tickets was not a problem.
*On Friday, the Thunder hosted the 14-23 Cleveland Cavaliers. Though they have the pending rookie of the year in Kyrie Irving, the LeBron-less Cavs are no drawing card. There were better ways to spend a Friday night, but fans still packed The Peake.
*Saturday brought the ultimate turnstile challenge in the 5-33 Charlotte Bobcats. Worse yet, the contest came one night after the Thunder had the audacity to lose to Cleveland. Though OKC's sellout streak appeared to be in jeopardy, another capacity crowd watched a mismatch between the team with the best record in the Western Conference against a group making a serious bid as the worst team in NBA history.
Heading into Tuesday's 7 p.m. game against Houston, the Thunder is 18-2 at home this season, which is tied with Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers for the league's best home record. OKC had won 14 straight at home before the Cleveland clunker, three short of the franchise record set in 1994-95.
“Our record is good at home for two reasons,” Brooks said. “We're good, and we've got a good crowd that get's us going. There are times when we don't play well, but our crowd is never going to show disappointment too much.”
Every game so far this season has been a sellout, which will make Tuesday's contest the 35th consecutive sellout dating back to the final 14 games last season.
Though this state's sports identity was built on collegiate teams, fan interest was immediate seven years ago when OKC had a chance to prove itself as a major league town.
When OKC became home to the displaced New Orleans Hornets after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, estimating how many people would show up for home games was anybody's guess.
But no one guessed the Hornets would sell out 18 of the 36 games played during the 2005-06 season at the Ford Center, which had a capacity of 960 more seats than it does now (19,163 compared to 18,203). The Hornets sold out 12 games in 2006-07.
“It was during the Hornets' time here that our community witnessed and experienced those same good feelings in a positive way to a sports team that we, at least for a time, perceived to be our own,” fan Doug Loudenback said. “In a major way, the presence of the Hornets in Oklahoma City solidified and clarified who we are and perceived ourselves to be. The Thunder's presence here is simply a continuation of what had already begun.”
The Thunder arrived from Seattle before the 2008-09 season and stumbled badly out of the gate. Despite a 3-29 start and a coaching change after just 13 games, the franchise still managed 18 sellouts and was at 97.7 percent capacity for home games (see chart).
The number of sellouts and capacity percentage continued to rise and likely will finish at maximum levels this season.