Oklahoma City first made NBA commissioner David Stern smile in 2005 when it offered itself to the displaced New Orleans Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.
Seven years later, his Cheshire Cat grin remains thanks to a relocated franchise that appears to have become America's sweetheart en route to the NBA Finals.
Twice OKC has been called upon to save a troubled franchise, twice OKC has delivered, and the most impressed — and thankful — person in the NBA board room might be the commissioner himself.
Stern addressed the media an hour before the start of Game 1 at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Tuesday night and it didn't take long for him to congratulate the city and state that almost instantaneously has become one of the league's prize commodities.
“It's interesting to see the way the state of Oklahoma has taken to these Oklahoma City Thunder,” Stern said in his opening remarks. “It's very rewarding that the NBA could play a part in really the growth and literally the excitement that this city that has suffered so much is seeing and having.”
Stern stood firmly in OKC's corner when it offered the Hornets a home and again three years later when Seattle failed to build a suitable facility to keep the SuperSonics franchise that began in 1967.
Asked to speak about Oklahoma from a personal standpoint, Stern said: “Well, I guess I would say I think of it fondly.”
Stern then re-told the story of the first time he met OKC Mayor Mick Cornett. When Cornett told Stern he wanted to lure an NBA franchise to the city, Stern responded: “You really ought to pursue another league.”
Stern recalled the particulars of Cornett's sales pitch, however. “They were building canals, rivers, Bricktowns, you name it, this place was building it,” Stern said.
When Hurricane Katrina hit and OKC quickly offered the Hornets safe haven, Stern spoke to Hornets owner George Shinn.