OKEENE — Leola Boyd called me a few weeks ago. She had an idea to help the Thunder keep her favorite player.
Miss Leola is 85 years old. She was born before Bob Cousy and Dolph Schayes but has lived long enough to fall hard for James Harden.
“I liked all of them,” she said of the Thunder. “But I decided I liked Harden the best. I don't know why I was drawn to him. It wasn't his beard.
“His smile. He seemed to be a very speedy player. He would try things other players wouldn't try.”
So Miss Leola was concerned when the Thunder/Harden negotiations seemed to stagnate. And she hatched a plan.
Miss Leola wanted me to rally all the fans to pitch in and make a donation that would supplement the Thunder's contract offer.
“I felt like, since I'm not able to go down there and support them financially, I would be more than willing to do my share for the honor of watching them play on television,” she said.
Miss Leola is on Social Security and admitted she couldn't give much. But she was willing to give $40.
Miss Leola fell hard for Harden, but I fell hard for Miss Leola. Last week, I grabbed videographer Damon Fontenot, and we headed out to this hamlet in Blaine County, 90 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.
I had to meet the woman who would give $40 to help the Thunder pay James Harden $13 million a year.
Miss Leola, wearing a blue Thunder shirt that was a gift on her 85th birthday, was a delight as she told us of her life and her nights spent watching Harden on Fox Sports Oklahoma. Even the West Coast games. Even the postgame show on the West Coast games.
“When the Thunder started down here, I really wasn't all that big a fan of basketball,” Miss Leola said. “I started with them and enjoyed it. Gradually got to know the characters.
“I've always liked Harden. I don't know why. I love to see him and (Nick) Collison play together. To me, they made the perfect pair.”
You know the rest. Over the weekend, before I could write up the charming tale of Miss Leola and her devotion to the Bearded One, the Thunder, convinced Harden wasn't going to sign for anything less than a maximum-money contract, traded its star southpaw to the Houston Rockets.
What a story, these Thunders and the passion they've invoked.
A woman raised in Depression-era Oklahoma, who graduated Okeene High during the gas-rationing days of World War II, lived all her life in God's Country of northwestern Oklahoma, went to college after her kids were grown and started a career in library sciences, felt a deep connection with the hip-hoppest player on the most popular team in the hip-hop NBA.
“I'm just not happy with the whole thing,” Miss Leola said this week when I called her.
She read my Monday column, how the Thunder gave Harden a final offer of $53 million over four years, which was more than generous but came with a one-hour time limit.
“If they had given Harden two more days, he would have done like KD and Westbrook, and he would have taken a lesser salary,” Miss Leola said. “If I could get my hands on those guys, I would choke 'em. They should have given him a little bit more time.”
Word of warning, Sam Presti. Stay clear of Okeene.
The Thunder is crazy-popular in the state, and Harden ranked with Durant as the most popular of the Boomers. My daughter, 55 years younger than Miss Leola and an avowed sports-hater, called Sunday morning. Haley was not happy.
Haley had fallen for Harden herself last spring. She had heard the news and wanted to know how Harden could be playing for another team. Haley doesn't really understand the concept of a trade, much less the intricacies of the NBA collective bargaining agreement.
I gave Haley the condensed version. “I'm never going to cheer for a sports team again,” she proclaimed.
Miss Leola was not quite so adamant. By conversation's end, she was resigned to life without Harden.
“I guess I'll stay with the Thunder,” Miss Leola said. “But I was sure unhappy when they let Harden go. KD and Westbrook and Collison will be my favorites now.
“I'll try to get over Harden being gone, but I'm still aggravated over it.”
For some in Oklahoma, Harden now is the enemy. A scoundrel for not sticking with Durant and Westbrook. Someone that we used to know.
That's not how Miss Leola Boyd of Okeene feels. If she could see James Harden now, what would she do?
“I think I would probably tell him, I like him, it's been a privilege to watch him play and a privilege to watch him smile. I would go up and give him a big hug and tell him, thank you.”
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.