OKC Thunder: A day in the life of an arena during the NBA Finals

NBA FINALS — Follow along as Chesapeake Energy Arena is prepped for the NBA Finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat.
BY PHIL O'CONNOR AND JULIANA KEEPING, Staff Writers Modified: June 12, 2012 at 7:01 pm •  Published: June 12, 2012
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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?

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