More than 14 hours before the Thunder takes the court for Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Jose Flores already is taking to the Chesapeake Energy Arena carpets.
Armed with a worn-out yellow broom, Flores, 40, is busy sweeping the arena's entryways. He's one of a small army of workers who will spend the day helping prepare the building for its biggest game yet. They include janitors and cooks, broadcasters and basketball executives, security guards and ticket sellers.
Their work began before dawn and will go on long into the night.
5:48 a.m. Flores is giving the carpets at the northeast entrance a strong workout with his broom.
“Making it look nice for the fans,” he says.
Flores, who earns $7.25 an hour, would like to see the series go the full seven games. He works an additional part-time job at one of the arena's restaurants. More wins means more work.
Flores says he hasn't had much chance to enjoy the Thunder's playoff run. On game days, he's often at the arena before sunup and doesn't get home until 2 a.m.
“I don't have time to celebrate,” he says. “If I'm not working, I'm sleeping.”
6 a.m. No sign of the chaos that will reign in the media room later Tuesday. The giant expanse in the bowels of the arena is built to handle the needs of up to 500 members of the working press. They'll be able to sit in folding chairs at one of several long rows of tables covered in black cloth.
The scribes who work here will have direct access to the Internet, and rumor has it, will get food. Seven flat-screen televisions around the room are tuned to NBA Network or ESPN but at this early hour play to an audience of none.
6:15 a.m. Jose Guzman, 22, moves slowly down a row of Section 104 swishing a damp mop across the floor. It will take him 45 minutes to complete the thankless work in just this one section.
“It's very good,” he says of the Thunder's trip to the finals. Overhead, the Thunder's Western Conference Champion banner hangs from the arena rafters.
6:25 a.m. Elizabeth Jackson is preparing the first of several meals she'll serve this week. A sous chef in the arena's main kitchen, Jackson, 27, normally works with about two dozen cooks and others to prepare the food for the ground floor and upper-level concession stands and some suites.
The NBA Finals has her preparing some extra meals, including breakfast for the ESPN crew. Tuesday it's continental fare. A bowl of pears, oranges and apples rests on the counter in front of her, and nearby several trays of pastries sit under cellophane.
“This is nothing like I've ever experienced,” Jackson says. “This is awesome. Each year it keeps getting bigger. It's really brought the city together.”
7 a.m. “To me it's just wonderful,” Oklahoma City police officer Jacqueline Ames says of the Thunder's first appearance in the NBA finals. “The fans wanted this 100 percent. They're always full of fun.”
Ames says this while she and fellow officer Alice Troy are pulling into the street the first of three orange and black barricades that will be used to block Reno Avenue in both directions on the north side of the arena. Why? Crowd control.
8 a.m. ESPN is a massive presence. The network took over a section of Robinson Avenue north of the arena. Some call it “the compound,” a fenced-off collection of trailers, satellite trucks, generators and other equipment that emits a steady hum loud enough to drown out a conversation. The area also houses eight portable toilets.
There is no sign at this hour of any of the network's on-air talent. Instead, a steady stream of workers carrying cables and other pieces of electronic gear swarm in and out of a gate protected by security guards.
9:20 a.m. Chris Chartier, 40, secures a gold-and-white NBA Finals banner on one of the few remaining uncovered areas in the arena's bowl. It's one of dozens of last-minute details that Chartier, one of two building operations managers, frets over. A walkie-talkie microphone dangles over his left shoulder. He uses it and an iPhone he fishes from his pants pocket to direct a staff of 20 workers spread throughout the building.
No detail is too small, especially when it comes to meeting the NBA's stringent requirements. Nearby, a tan-colored plastic trash can waits to be removed from the arena to be replaced by a shiny stainless steel model — NBA approved, of course. At least he doesn't have to worry about preparing the locker rooms. That requirement list is 17 pages, Chartier said.
9:40 a.m. Greg Hernandez is the other operations manager, the one who has to worry about the locker rooms and how the world will see Oklahoma City, he says. “We want to be perfect,” says Hernandez, 44, who hopes to shed what he believes is a misperception that many people have that the city can't handle such a big-time event.
“This is the biggest game for myself, for the city, the state, everybody involved.” His biggest worry? Something he can't control.
9:45 a.m. Former San Antonio Spur and television analyst Bruce Bowen, dressed in a summer suit and bow tie, wanders the cavernous hallways deep in the arena and asks a passer-by where ESPN's First Take is being taped.
An arena employee directs him down a hallway.
10:05 a.m. Traffic in the Thunder Shop starts off brisk and isn't letting up. Customers already are stacking up four and five deep at the checkout register, arms full of T-shirts, hats and other trinkets.
Sharon Reese, 50, of southeast Oklahoma City, moves stealthily along one wall of merchandise. She doesn't want to attract too much attention. She's shopping for Heat gear.
“I'm in love with LeBron,” Reese says. But she's pulling for the hometown team.
“I think the Thunder are going to take it,” she says.
Above her a television is broadcasting ESPN. Bruce Bowen is telling a television audience that Game 1 might offer the Heat its best chance to steal a victory.
10:17 a.m. A French television crew is interviewing Thunder fans on the sidewalk outside the arena, preparing for the live game broadcast that will air at 3 a.m. in France. Looking on is commentator George Eddy, who has called every NBA finals game live on French television since 1991. So George, do you consider yourself the French Marv Albert?
“I'd rather say I'm the French Jeff Van Gundy,” Eddy says. “I'm not as kinky as Marv.”
11:50 a.m. The sound of bouncing balls and squeaking sneakers indicates the Heat has finally arrived for their early morning shootaround. NBA rules require the arena be cleared of any casual observers while the visiting team spends some time hoisting a few jump shots, lest any secrets be spilled.
A peek through the black curtains that block the doorways reveals that the Heat players warm up wearing black shorts and red-and-white practice jerseys. Shhhh. Don't tell anyone.
2:15 p.m. Security is a serious matter at the Finals. Police with bomb-sniffing dogs snake their way through every row in the arena. Meanwhile, fit young men wearing camouflage backpacks and holding detectors in their hands hunt for radiation. No sign yet of the volunteers who will bombard the arena's seats with Thunder T-shirts.
2:49 p.m. First sighting of the volunteers who cover every seat back in the arena with Thunder T-shirts. They're busy in the club level. Then you realize, holy cow, they've already finished the entire upper deck. These guys are not only efficient in their work, they're eerily quiet.
The night's T-shirts are blue with the words “One Thunder” printed in white on the front.
3 p.m. An update on the night's expected food and beverage consumption at the Peake:
2,500 hot dogs.
1,500 bags of popcorn.
400 cheese steaks.
5,000 bottled waters.
10,000 beers — that's beer sold in the arena, at $6.75 for a 20-ounce pour.
1,500 beers are expected to be sold in Thunder Alley; those 12-ouncers go for a mere $2.
Steven Tamborello, who oversees food and beverages at the arena, says the operation is expected to pull in $1,000 a minute in sales that night.
“People are a little more free-flowing with their money,” Tamborello says of playoff crowds. “The wallets come open a little faster and stay open a little longer.”
3:05 p.m. Greg Hernandez, the nit-picky operations manager, climbs to the top of a ladder on the arena floor. In his hand is a brand-new net to replace the seemingly new one already hanging from the basket.
Seems it wouldn't be prudent to leave the same net in place that was on the basket when the Heat conducted its team shootaround just minutes before.
“This thing will show crystal white on television,” Hernandez says of the fresh threads. “It will really pop.”
Like we said, he's nit-picky.
3:45 p.m. Cindy Allen, of Edmond, is among hundreds of hopefuls who journeyed to downtown Oklahoma City for her chance to win the last of the Thunder tickets for the night's sold-out NBA Finals game. After registering with Thunder Rewards Zone, Allen and her dog, Bella, wander about to take in the atmosphere. Both wear Thunder T-shirts. “I just want one ticket,” she says.
Under its rewards program, the Thunder is handing out 25 free tickets and opening up for purchase 75 pairs of tickets after letting hopefuls register from 4 to 6 p.m. The drawing is at 6:30 p.m. If she doesn't get that golden ticket, Allen's not going to sweat it. “We're here to support the Thunder!” she says.
4:15 p.m. Mary Jo Hope is official the Thunder's manager of event presentation. Under her very wide umbrella: Deciding where to place banners to the placement of trash cans. In one sentence, her job description is "I get things done." She arrived Chesapeake Energy Arena at 7:30 a.m. and probably won't leave until after midnight Tuesday.
Has she put out any fires? Hope wouldn't get specific, but she said "You wouldn't believe the stuff that happens. But you just roll with it. You have a plan A, B and C and a play 'get it done.'" Thunder alley, which now shuts down at tip off, was bustling with people, merchandising booths and inflatables four hours ahead of the game. Hope will oversee the area as it's broken down. Her job philosophy: "Never be surprised what you're asked to do, and never be too good to take out the trash."
5:15 p.m. Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat is spotted shooting 3s while “American Idol” runner-up 2012 Jessica Sanchez belts out “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
5:50 p.m. “Hey family, c'mon family,” says supervisor Lorraine Lovelace, gathering a group of ushers clad in navy blue vests studded with Thunder pins. The group stands for its own pregame pep talk. Fans will be entering the arena in about 10 minutes. “We have media everywhere,” she tells the group. Supervisor Jerald Lewis reminds them not to talk to the any of those media members. They are reminded to keep the “voms” clear. Voms is short for vomitorium, a reference to passages in ancient Roman amphitheaters. They are reminded to be careful and helpful in their approach to crowd members. “It's all in your delivery,” Lewis says. “The world is watching.”
Though communication is strictly forbidden, a Thunder boss is called up on a walkie-talkie, giving clearance for one of the ushers, Mark Bennett, to talk to the press. Bennett says the people in his sections, 303 and 304, are a lot like a family. “Everybody knows me by my name. I get high fives at the end of the game if we win. ... It is a good atmosphere, a family atmosphere, because everybody comes and enjoys the game.”
6:05 p.m. Several Heat players are on the court taking warm-up shots. Bruce Bowen is standing near midcourt chatting up a Heat big man. Bowen holds a box of popcorn in one hand. “Back in Black” blares over the arena speakers.
6:10 p.m. Chris and Jonna Basler, of El Reno, are a lonely sight, the only fans sitting in all of section 107 in the lower part of the arena bowl. The couple arrived 30 minutes before arena doors opened and then made a beeline to their seats to take in their first Thunder game this year.
Row N, seats 11 and 12, provide a perfect baseline view of the court and Bowen.
“I think it's fantastic Oklahoma embraces an NBA team as much as they have,” Chris Basler says. “It's fantastic.”
7:05 p.m. NBA Commissioner David Stern lauds Oklahoma City in a press conference where the economics of small market basketball are discussed. “Oklahoma City has not disappointed,” Stern says.
7:20 p.m. The arena is filling with fans, and the noise level is increasing. On the court, beneath the south basket, the French television crew is interviewing Bowen.
8 p.m. Lil Wayne enters the arena and takes a seat courtside.
8:05 p.m. The tipoff: The Thunder controls the ball.
See NewsOK.com and the special Thunder section in this newspaper for more details on the game and the players.