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Jenni Carlson: Thundermania creates powerful sense of community

by Jenni Carlson Modified: April 29, 2010 at 8:22 am •  Published: April 28, 2010

Thunder fans spilled into the concourses, the stairs and the escalators, and yet, no one seemed to be in any hurry to leave the Ford Center.

They wanted to celebrate.

"Beat L.A.!" the chant went up.

Faster than Russell Westbrook driving to the basket, the entire stairwell echoed with sound.

"Beat L.A.!"

Fans from the cheap seats mixed with fans from the suite seats.

"Beat L.A.!"

The cross-section of people who joined that chant last Saturday night was as diverse as Oklahoma City itself. There were black and white, Hispanic and Asian, white-collar and middle-class, and they were all united, one Thunder Nation.

On the eve of Game 6 in a playoff series against the Lakers that has been all about home-court advantage, there is no doubt that this Thunder squad has done many fantastic things for the city and the state. Think of the increased national exposure and the significant economic impact.

Still, nothing the Thunder has done is more important than the way it is bringing folks together. It has made everyone feel like they're part of something grand. It has created a sense of community that is changing this city and this state.

Don't misunderstand. Folks here have always been a friendly bunch, a helpful lot. Yet, the Bedlam rivalry has long created tension. It's crimson vs. orange, Cowboy vs. Sooner, us vs. them.

That will never go away entirely, but it has been muted.

The Thunder has made folks feel united in a way that this state has never experienced. You could sense it in the late-game sing-a-long that broke out Saturday night at the Ford Center when they played "Sweet Caroline." You could hear it in the roar that went up when this team came out for warm-ups before the first two home playoff games. You could see it on the streets outside the arena after the home games.

Bricktown became a rolling block party Saturday night. Folks hung out of cars high-fiving pedestrians. Fans cheered. Horns blared.

A railing that runs along Reno Avenue between Rooster's and Starbucks became a prime location. Fans stood on that railing and were able high-five pedestrians on the sidewalk and motorists on the street.

One out-of-town visitor said Thunder fans were Red Sox like.

Talk about walking in some tall cotton. Still, the evidence of the Thunder's growing fandom is everywhere.

Hop in your car in Oklahoma City, and it won't be long before you see someone flying one of those Thunder car flags. The thing is, you're just as likely to spot one on a suped-up car rolling down NW 23rd Street as you are on a soccer-mom van streaking up Broadway Extension toward Edmond.

There's even virtual evidence of Thunder mania. On Twitter, more than a thousand folks have added a Thunder twibbon to their profile photo. That means a small Thunder logo now appears in the lower righthand corner of their picture.

The number of Thunder twibbons is double that of Cavaliers ones. Ditto for Spurs or Celtics.

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by Jenni Carlson
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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