DALLAS — Oklahomans have been crossing the Red River for big-time sporting events for the better part of a century.
OU-Texas. The Cotton Bowl. The Big 12 basketball tournament. Big 12 football championship. NCAA basketball tournaments.
All staged in Greater Dallas.
But notice the commonality of those events. All staged on neutral territory. All had their share of Sooner or Cowboy fans.
There will be nothing neutral about American Airlines Center on Tuesday night.
The Thunder plays the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 of the NBA's Western Conference Finals, what could be a two-week drama and what most definitely will rearrange the Dallas-Oklahoma City relationship.
Dallas long has sought Oklahoma sports fans to help fill the seats of marquee events. But in this series, any Thunder fans who find their way into the arena will be considered infidels.
Look at it this way. A whole bunch of native Oklahomans who have cheered for the Sooners against the Longhorns, or for the Cowboys in the Cotton Bowl, or even for OU or OSU when they've visited Texas Christian or Southern Methodist universities and made up at least half the crowd will be cheering like mad for the Mavericks on Tuesday night.
“I have to admit, I've turned into a Mavs fan, true and blue,” said Gary Nelson, the 1976 Ada High School quarterback, who has lived in the Dallas suburb of Carrollton since 1983. “We went to games when they were 9-62, when they had their lean years. And it's been a really fun run watching this transition.”
For a decade, the Mavericks have been an NBA power, winning at least 50 games for 11 straight years. Now the Thunder has joined the Mavs as an NBA contender, and Dallas faces the uneasy prospect of its championship hopes being wrecked by its little-brother city.
“I think it'll be great for the fans,” said the Thunder's Nick Collison. “It's a short drive. I'm sure there will be a lot of OKC fans trying to get in the building in Dallas, and vice versa. But both places have pretty good home crowds. There might not be many seats available for people. It's going to be fun for sure.”