It used to be an old skating rink. It grew into the root of success for the NBA's fastest-rising franchise. Without it, and the people who've passed through it, the Oklahoma City Thunder might still be stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity.
Soon, however, the warehouse-style building adjacent the barren parcel of land on Lincoln Blvd. will close its doors for good. A larger, more lavish model will replace it.
But when the Thunder packs up and moves, it will be leaving the only practice facility it has ever known.
And the transition will be bittersweet.
“When we do close the doors here, it'll be interesting,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said at his season-ending news conference on May 27.
“This is the same practice floor that was there when we were struggling, and it's the same practice floor that we came back to after winning our first road playoff game, which was a significant achievement for our team. This has been where we've worked.”
A one-cent sales tax funded the construction of the new facility, which is located just north of Britton Road at the Broadway Extension. Before the NBA's work stoppage, the Thunder had planned on being in its new digs before the start of training camp. Although construction has been delayed, postponing the grand opening by more than a year, the facility still will contain the bells and whistles, inside and out, to make it one of the most luxurious training sites in the league.
“It's way bigger,” said Thunder forward Kevin Durant. “You can get lost in there.”
The two-time All-Star and back-to-back scoring champ continued.
“Our locker room is crazy,” said Durant, who toured the place in late June, days before the league shut out its players. “It's like our locker room at the arena. They've got all these hot and cold tubs. And we're supposed to have a 30-yard turf field in the back. It's nice.”
Missing, though, will be the memories.
Thunder players left blood, sweat and tears inside that meager building formerly known as the Rockin Roller Rink. They argued and fought there, too.
“We went through a lot in that building,” said Durant.
Collectively, it formed the backbone of a franchise that in three years has gone from 23 to 50 to 55 victories and a Western Conference Finals appearance. After climbing each step, the Thunder showed up the next day at the same place to put in more work. It never mattered whether the milestone was the first victory in Oklahoma City, the first playoff berth, the first playoff win or the first division title.
That dedication built a bond with the building.
“We had a lot of firsts in that building,” Durant said. “But we always went back the next day and practiced.”
Durant then talked about all the different players that came through town. He was echoing his general manager. It's Presti who frequently talks about the importance of people. How they come and go but their impact always remains.
For all its bells and whistles, the new facility won't have the same spot on the same floor that Desmond Mason spent hours teaching Durant his signature rip move, or the same intimate film room where Kevin Ollie mentored Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor, or that same familiar painted area where veterans such as Malik Rose and Joe Smith helped school up-an-comers like Nick Collison and Jeff Green.
That's why the move will be bittersweet.
“I went through my first two All-Star games and came back to that building,” Durant said. “So it's a lot as an individual and as a team that I went through in that building.
“I think I'm going to really miss it, just going in and out of it every day.”