At 3 a.m. anywhere, most of the world is asleep. But on Thunder game nights, Will Heckenkemper is more than likely wide awake in Olten, Switzerland, watching his team.
Fans of the Thunder from around the world aren't letting complications like thousands of miles and time zones get in the way of their Thunder fix.
Explains Heckenkemper, 22, of Edmond, via email: “I have yet to find a sports bar in Switzerland that will stay open until 6 a.m. to let one crazy guy watch a game, so I bought the NBA League Pass playoff package and have been watching games on my computer. Games usually start at 2:30 or 3:30 a.m. my time.”
His support of the team got loud enough that one morning, around 5 a.m., a dorm neighbor had to tell him to knock it off.
“I was only a little sorry for waking him up,” he said.
Heckenkemper is a University of Central Oklahoma student in Switzerland studying international business abroad. Fans around the world reported taking all kinds of measures to catch games.
Mike Harris, 60, has a commute that's not for the faint. The Oklahoma City man runs a consulting company in Beijing. He has been commuting between the Middle Kingdom and his hometown for nearly 11 years for work. Harris speaks Mandarin fluently, which is helpful when he catches NBA games on government-controlled sports channel CCTV 5, which dubs NBA games with the Chinese language. Due to the 13-hour time difference, games are on around 8:30 or 9 a.m., he said via email. Harris missed Game 1 of the NBA Finals due to a work schedule that just wouldn't give. But he caught Game 2 in his apartment. “Kind of fun!” Harris wrote in an email. “But I still wish I was home and watching the games in person.”
Layna Austin, 23, arrived in Russia in April to teach English, work at an orphanage and volunteer with the community. Austin grew up in Checotah and became a Thunder fan in college. She catches games via Slingbox, a TV streaming media device that's connected to DirecTV stateside. That means games are bright and early, at 7 a.m., she said. Her most recent favorite moment “was winning the West Finals and going to our first NBA Championship playoffs!” she said via email.
John Benningfield, 28, doesn't typically let a 14-hour time difference interrupt his Thunder habit. The Oklahoman from Medford has been living in Japan since 2008, when he took a civilian job with the U.S. Navy managing athletic activities in Yokosuka, Japan. A perk of the job is that he can watch games while managing fitness centers, which is how he watched the Thunder beat the Heat during Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The American Forces Network broadcasts sports and other programs to military bases all over the world, he said via email. Back when the franchise moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, AFN didn't air many games. That's not the case now, he said. Benningfield downloaded an iPhone app to catch playoff games during a recent trip to Cambodia, he said. “I listened to Game 4 of the Lakers series in Narita International Airport in Tokyo. I listened to Game 5 in my hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia,” he said. He caught the first quarter of Game 1 of the Spurs series in Guangzhou Baiyun Airport in China before hopping on a plane. “I think I was one of the last people to board the plane,” he said.
It was hard for Heckenkemper to locate Swiss basketball lovers — at first. “But I found the very few that do!” he said in an email. While at a pub, a group of Swiss men saw his Thunder shirt and started talking to him about the team. Like Heckenkemper, they were big fans of Thabo Sefolosha, who is Swiss.
“I have since become close friends with them these past few months,” Heckenkemper wrote. Together, they watched Game 1 of the Finals. “It really is crazy that a basketball team can bring people from around the world together,” he said.