Local basketball fans should expect busy streets and plenty of occupied parking spaces in downtown Oklahoma City on Wednesday evening for the earliest weeknight home game in Thunder history.
The Thunder's game Wednesday against the Boston Celtics in Chesapeake Energy Arena begins at 6 p.m., an hour earlier than most of the team's weeknight games. The earlier start is to accommodate ESPN, which will broadcast the game nationally, along with the Fox Sports Oklahoma in the local market.
Fans attending the game likely will find downtown streets more crowded and parking spaces more limited than they're accustomed to for 7 p.m. games.
“We will be dealing with both persons coming into downtown, as well as persons leaving downtown,” Oklahoma City police Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow said. “We aren't making any specific changes for traffic control in advance, but our officers will be ready to react should it become a problem.”
Thunder officials encourage fans to plan for the possibility of extra logistical headaches as they make their way to the game.
“We would just urge people coming to the game from outside downtown to allow extra time to get here and get parked,” Thunder spokesman Dan Mahoney said.
“We have a lot of people who work downtown who come to the games (and) who maybe on a normal night might go home first, but in this case head straight to the game. So that could offset some of that.”
It's not the first time multiple events or an unusual Thunder tipoff time have created traffic and parking issues downtown. Streets are generally more clogged when a Thunder game occurs at the same time as an event at the Cox Convention Center, which is across the street from the arena.
Parking spots also were hard to come by for a daytime Thunder playoff game last spring held on the same day as the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon and the Festival of the Arts.
Mahoney said the team has no control over start times for nationally televised games.
“Our fans and our organization are always prepared to do whatever is necessary,” Mahoney said. “We don't question start times. We're glad to play whenever we play.”
Wednesday's game against the Celtics also isn't the only home game this week with a start time affected by national television.
Thursday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers, televised by TNT, begins at 8:30 p.m. — though that likely will put pressure only on bedtimes, not downtown Oklahoma City's parking infrastructure.