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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

Maybe it's the way the Thunder has responded this season after winning only 23 games a season ago. Perhaps it's the personality of the players or the youth of the franchise or the style of the game. Whatever the reason, this team is drawing people together.

Heck, Thunder fans are even being united by their sleep deprivation. The past four games in this playoff series have started no earlier than 8:30 p.m. Oklahoma time. That means games going until around midnight, and that means scores of bleary-eyed Oklahomans.

Jeremy Johnson is the student minister at First Baptist Church in Weatherford. After watching Saturday night's game on television — "I hooked the flat screen up outside ... and we sat around the fire pit, grilled burgers and watched the game" — he had to be at the church at 8 a.m.

His early-morning boost?

"Had two cups of coffee and a ham and cheese biscuit and prayed," he said. "Yes, Sunday morning was tough. But it was well worth it to watch the Thunder win."

Lanie James felt the same way. The Oklahoma City thirtysomething went to Saturday night's game, got home after midnight, then got up before 5 a.m. Sunday morning to run the half marathon in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.

What's more, she beat her half-marathon time of a year ago by 13 minutes.

"I don't know how I did it," she said. "I credit the energy of Oklahoma City that weekend. It was absolutely one of the most incredible weekends to be a part of."

Like Johnson and James, Maija and Rob Vogel are battling sleep deprivation, too, but they are doing so on separate continents.

Maija and Rob met in Oklahoma City eight years ago when he was visiting a family he'd lived with as a foreign exchange student. They married four years ago, made their home in the city and even bought season tickets for the Thunder. The arrangement had just one hang-up — Rob had started a business in his native Holland before he ever met Maija.

He still travels to Holland regularly to manage the business but refuses to miss a Thunder game.

"So, every night the Thunder plays, I put a chair in front of the TV with my Mac on it and wait for my Skype to ring," Maija said.

Her laptop sends a streaming picture of the TV broadcast via the Internet to his laptop.

"I'm sure if my neighbors looked in my windows," Maija said, "they would think I am a mental patient high-fiving the computer."

That makes late nights for her but even later ones for him. Those games that start at 8:30 p.m. in Oklahoma start at 3:30 a.m. in Holland.

But they are sacrificing for the Thunder just like thousands of other Oklahomans are. No one seems to mind it. No one seems to see it as a sacrifice really.

Folks want to be part of Thunder mania. This team has created a sense of community that is powerful. Unique. Special.

It's one more thing to celebrate.

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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