They might be free, but in Oklahoma City, Thunder playoff shirts allow fans to wear their hearts on their sleeves.
Scan the crowd at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, and nearly all 18,203 fans will be wearing the T-shirt provided on their seat, some topping the designer suit or $50 Thunder shirt they wore underneath. It's not like that in every NBA market.
The Thunder will hit a milestone for Wednesday night's game against the Memphis Grizzlies: The 500,000th playoff shirt will have been given away to fans. That's half a million free shirts since 2010, when the team first made the playoffs.
Die-hard Thunder fans have amassed stacks of T-shirts from the team's four runs in the NBA Playoffs; Edmond teen Jackson Kinnear has even tried collected them all (he's lacking just one.)
But if anything proves how valued these shirts are, it's the scramble that occurs at USA Screen Printing & Embroidery, where the team's playoff shirts have been printed for the past two years, before each Oklahoma City matchup.
Tuesday afternoon, crews were finishing an order of 20,000 shirts headed to the arena for Wednesday night's game against the Memphis Grizzlies. The white Ts read “Thunder Pride” and feature a flag design.
This round of printing started Friday and continued Monday and Tuesday, with workers receiving the weekend off. But that hasn't always been the case.
“If we have to start at night to have it done, we run all night,” said Chris Johnson, owner of USA Screen Printing at 3100 S Meridian.
After the Thunder wrapped up the first playoff series in Houston with a win against the Rockets on a Friday night, all eight presses at USA Screen Printing fired up and ran from midnight to 3 p.m. the next day — in time for a Sunday Game 1 against Memphis.
Johnson said they started calling employees in the third quarter to let them know they'd likely be needed.
“It's called a ‘hot market,'” he said. “We love it.”