The Thunder earned its first Northwest Division title with a win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night.
So how will the franchise commemorate it?
Expect a banner to be raised to the rafters inside the Oklahoma City Arena.
NBA franchises have long honored their divisional-championship-winning teams with such ceremonies. And the Thunder, an organization that has operated in nothing but class in its first three seasons, in all likelihood will plan a similar celebration to honor the team’s achievement. It’s not a question of if. It’s a matter of when.
Historically, banner-raising ceremonies have been carried out in one of four ways: before the game immediately following the clinching win, before the team’s final game of the regular season, before the team’s first game of the playoffs, or before the team’s first game of the following season.
Tonight’s game against Denver is the first chance the Thunder will have to lift a brand new banner. No official announcement of the team’s plans has been made, but don’t bet on a banner being unveiled tonight. It doesn’t fit the ‘Thunder Way.’
This is an organization that has quickly established a structure system, with two of its leading tenets being timing and tastefulness. The Thunder is a team that will never celebrate an accomplishment when there is still business to be handled. We also know the Thunder to be a no-flash, no-frills operation that almost fearfully guards against any sort of distraction. And with four regular season games remaining, a pre-game banner-raising celebration could be just that, something that potentially could take the focus off of finishing the task at hand.
The Thunder, of course, has never and will never (at least under current ownership and management) seek to attract additional attention. When this 2010-11 squad gets its salute, it probably will be in the most low-key slot available. But it’s coming and rightfully so.
Oklahoma City essentially is starting from scratch. The Thunder has no real heritage, no NBA championships, no retired numbers, no sellout streaks. All OKC has hanging from its rafters is a blue banner commemorating the Thunder’s establishment three years ago.
Technically, the franchise’s achievements from the Seattle SuperSonics’ days belong to the Thunder. But who in OKC wants that? Which is why Wednesday’s win was so significant. It signaled the official start to this city building its own tradition of NBA excellence. And don’t believe for one second that division titles don’t deserve trumpeting. They’re much too hard to come by to not take pride in.
The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers are the only two franchises that do not hang banners of divisional champions. They’ve won a combined 33 NBA championships.
But since the NBA realigned divisions in 2004 to create the current five-teams-among-six-divisions format, exactly half of the league’s 30 teams have been shutout from a division crown. In the previous six seasons prior to realignment, 17 of the then-29 teams did not win a division title.
Only 14 teams have won at least two division titles since the 1998-99 NBA season. Only six have won three or more. Seven teams since 1998 have garnered just one division title.
If those figures don’t bring it home, maybe this will.
In all of Dirk Nowitzki’s days with Dallas, the Mavs have earned just two division championships, the same amount Cleveland captured during LeBron James’ tenure with the Cavs. Still need more proof the league doesn’t just dole out divisional titles? Kevin Garnett, in 12 seasons in Minnesota, led the Wolves to only one divisional crown.
What the Thunder accomplished Wednesday was a milestone worth honoring. And that’s precisely why the Thunder will, even though this year’s division championship is widely viewed as the first of many more to come. Because there’s no telling when the next one might arrive.
So enjoy this one while you can, Thunder fans, and cherish the soon-to-be commemoration of this city’s first token of NBA excellence.