Happy fifth to Oklahoma City's NBA franchise

Believe it or not, it has been five years since the Thunder came to town, though we didn't know the team as the Thunder then. The franchise was nameless. But it wasn't faceless.
by Jenni Carlson Modified: July 9, 2013 at 12:00 pm •  Published: July 9, 2013
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photo - OKC NBA, FORMER SEATTLE SUPERSONICS, SONICS BASKETBALL TEAM: Oklahoma City's guard Russell Westbrook, left  (0), gets off a shot against Indiana Pacers center Vladimir Gulobovic, of Serbia, during an NBA summer league basketball game in Orlando, Fla., Monday, July 7, 2008.(AP Photo/John Raoux) ORG XMIT: FLJR107
OKC NBA, FORMER SEATTLE SUPERSONICS, SONICS BASKETBALL TEAM: Oklahoma City's guard Russell Westbrook, left (0), gets off a shot against Indiana Pacers center Vladimir Gulobovic, of Serbia, during an NBA summer league basketball game in Orlando, Fla., Monday, July 7, 2008.(AP Photo/John Raoux) ORG XMIT: FLJR107

Five years ago this week we huddled around computer screens to watch grainy images of a team in all-black uniforms playing in a thing called the summer league.

It was our first look at Oklahoma City's new NBA franchise.

Believe it or not, it has been five years since the Thunder came to town, though we didn't know the team as the Thunder then. The franchise was nameless.

But it wasn't faceless.

That summer league introduced us to the bunch that had come to our fair city, a move that had been anticipated for years but that had been announced only five days earlier.

It was a whirlwind of a week.

On July 2, a U.S. District judge was set to rule in the case between Seattle and the Sonics. The city wanted to keep the team in town by keeping it from breaking its lease. The team, led by Clay Bennett, wanted out after the city failed to agree to arena upgrades.

The ruling was going to be announced via the district court's website at 6 p.m. Oklahoma time.

The unofficial over-under on how quickly the site would crash when all of Oklahoma and Washington logged in was 2.5 seconds.

But before the judge could issue her ruling, the sides agreed to a deal. One of the conditions was the team paying the city $45 million to break its lease.

Goodbye, Seattle.

Hello, Oklahoma City.

That night, Bennett stood in front of a blue backdrop that in retrospect looked a lot like the Thunder blue that this state has come to know and love. The frontman for the NBA in OKC started a press conference at the Skirvin with an exhale.

“We made it,” he said.

Here at Oklahoman headquarters, we splashed that quote across the top of our newspaper the next morning. On the cover of the sports section, we ran a photo of champagne being poured.

Yes, everyone was excited.

And I'm not just talking about the newsroom.

Within the first 90 minutes of Bennett's announcement, thousands of people registered for the chance to purchase season tickets.

Remember, they were buying into a team that had no name, no mascot, no colors. A team that won only 20 games the season before. A team that would feature a starting lineup of Kevin Durant, Nick Collison, Jeff Green, Earl Watson and Johan Petro on opening night.

None of it mattered that first week of July 2008.


by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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Then and now

Much has changed since Oklahoma City's NBA franchise made its on-court debut during the Orlando summer league five years ago this week.

Here's a look at the state of affairs then and now:

Category, Then, Now

Name of OKC's NBA team, TBD, Thunder

Colors worn, Black and white, Blue and white

Thunder summer league coach, Scott Brooks, Rex Kalamian

Thunder rookie draftees in the summer league, Russell Westbrook, D.J. White and DeVon Hardin; Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Grant Jerrett

Thunder summer league leader, Jeff Green, Reggie Jackson

Thunder summer league curiosity, Russell Westbrook, Jeremy Lamb

Kevin Durant's status, Newly minted NBA Rookie of the Year, Newly engaged to Monica Wright

Domestic news of the day, California wildfires, Arizona wildfires

International news of the day, Uncertainty in Iraq, Unrest in Egypt

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