There was an undeniable power in sport.
Still, when Cornett left behind his TV career in 1999 and eventually got into politics, he never intended for sports to be such a big part of his new career. But they have been. Whether the growth of the Women’s College World Series or the development of the Oklahoma River or the luring of events like the NCAA Wrestling Championships and the Big 12 basketball tournaments, sports have been a constant of Cornett’s decade-plus in the mayor’s office.
The biggest crossroads, of course, was the NBA’s arrival in OKC. It put the city not only on a national stage but also an international pedestal. No doubt Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Co. have had a big hand in that, but it wouldn’t have happened without Cornett and others leading the charge.
The significance of the NBA coming to OKC is reflected in the mementos on the walls and shelves of Cornett’s city hall office. Durant wearing his “OKLAHOMA CITY” jersey on the cover of ESPN The Magazine. Chris Paul and Desmond Mason bobblehead dolls from the Hornet days. Cornett in a photo with Hornets dignitaries George Shinn, Willis Reed and Byron Scott on the day that it became official the franchise was relocating from New Orleans to Oklahoma City.
“To just have Willis Reed and Byron Scott in town would’ve been a big deal,” Cornett said of days before the Hornets’ arrival.
Less than a decade later, folks in Oklahoma City can hardly remember what life was like without an NBA team.
How did we fill the winter months without games at The Peake?
What did we do every spring without the Thunder in the playoffs?
Cornett will forever be linked to OKC’s big-league transformation, and frankly, it’s a bit ironic that he is the Putnam City alum with the biggest sports impact on this city. The school’s best athletes were legends elsewhere. Largent was Mr. Seattle before the Seahawks became a current-day power. Adams was Mr. Phoenix playing his entire career with the Suns. And Shirley had his longest big-league stint in Gotham with the Yankees. And while those men are loved here, they largely brought athletic glory to other cities.
Cornett helped bring it to Oklahoma City.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.