Isaac Hanson clearly recalls the precise moment when his love for the Oklahoma City Thunder hit its most fervent point.
“We were able to sing the (national) anthem in the Western Conference Finals last year, and it literally just consumed me at that moment,” said the Tulsa singer/musician who is one-third of the sibling trio Hanson.
He and brothers Zac and Taylor got the chance to give their harmonious rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” again May 31 during Game 3 of this year's Western Conference Finals.
“For us, the anthem has always been extraordinarily important and a reverent experience and one that we've always taken really seriously,” Hanson said. “Singing it for the Thunder crowd in Oklahoma, having the team that is doing so well and such a young and vibrant team and then to have a crowd like the Oklahoma crowd ... it was a lot of fun both times, particularly this time.”
As much as he enjoyed his band's opportunities to sing the anthem, Hanson hopes to say he can see some bigger names belting the song when the Thunder's NBA Finals series against the Miami Heat tips off at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I think it's pretty great that we've had the opportunity to get so many folks involved,” Hanson said. “But I'm kind of waiting for Miss (Carrie) Underwood and Mr. Vince Gill and maybe a little Reba and Garth while they're at it because we need some country superstardom in there, as well.”
John Leach, the Thunder's director of events and entertainment, declined to reveal what performers will get star-spangled during the Oklahoma City games of the NBA Finals.
“That's going to be a surprise,” he said. “We have a few big names that we're working out right now.”
Once the Thunder clinched an NBA Finals berth, he said Thunder and league officials began working to secure performers.
“We try to showcase Oklahoma talent because we really do feel like there's a lot of talent here,” Leach said. “There are some that we have pursued for many, many years to no avail. I won't mention any names. But a lot of the big names that you think of when you think of Oklahoma — Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, all those people — they're singers but they don't necessarily have the desire to sing the anthem because it's a very difficult song ... and they don't want to be put in the position to execute that song at the expectation that people have.”
He said scheduling conflicts and routing issues often keep top-shelf stars from committing to what amounts to a high-pressure 90-second performance, even for their home team. The team worked for a long time to book Tony and Emmy winner Kristin Chenoweth, a Thunder super fan who was finally able to belt the anthem at the Dec. 29 home game against the Dallas Mavericks.
“We hope to have her back here again real soon. So we're getting big names; I mean, she's a superstar,” Leach said.
“Blake Shelton, he's told us flat-out ‘it'd be an honor but I don't want to.' ... Look what happened to Christina Aguilera, she's got one of the strongest voices out there. She had a little mental break and screwed up the words a little bit and she'll never live it down.”
Although she was honored to be asked, Oklahoma native and gospel recording artist Sandi Patty approached singing the anthem before Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals with trepidation.
After all, when she lived in Indiana, Patty performed the anthem several times for the Indianapolis Colts. But when the NFL team was on a winning streak, she declined to sing the “Banner” because they had lost a few previous games where she had belted the song.
“I'd say ‘I am such a fan that I won't sing because every time I sing, the Colts have lost and we can't afford a loss right now,'” Patty said.
This time, she relaxed when Thunder announcer Brian Davis told her that she had a 4-0 record: She had sung at four previous Thunder games and each time, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the crew had emerged victorious.
Of course, the Grammy winner is now 5-0 with the Thunder becoming Western Conference Champions last week. She said she took the song up a key before Game 6 because she knew the Thunder needed to play at a higher energy level.
“I have worn my Thunder playoff shirt three days in a row now around town. I am so proud of them,” Patty said Friday. “They are great young men on and off the court.”