With all due respect to the title sponsor of Chesapeake Energy Arena, the word in the middle carries the most clout.
After each pulsating victory or miraculous comeback at home, Thunder team members habitually mention the “energy” they felt coming from their sellout crowd.
“It's a broken record with our crowd,” OKC coach Scott Brooks said. “You know that every game they're going to be there, every night, no matter who we play. It could be the defending champions. It could be a team that has a bad record. They're going to be there.”
Last week's schedule offered the entire spectrum:
*On Monday, the Thunder hosted the world champion Dallas Mavericks, who quickly have become OKC's biggest rival. A sellout was a gimme.
*On Wednesday, the Thunder hosted a hot Phoenix team that had won three straight, five of its last six and is led by one of the best point guards ever in Steve Nash. Though not a gimme sellout, selling tickets was not a problem.
*On Friday, the Thunder hosted the 14-23 Cleveland Cavaliers. Though they have the pending rookie of the year in Kyrie Irving, the LeBron-less Cavs are no drawing card. There were better ways to spend a Friday night, but fans still packed The Peake.
*Saturday brought the ultimate turnstile challenge in the 5-33 Charlotte Bobcats. Worse yet, the contest came one night after the Thunder had the audacity to lose to Cleveland. Though OKC's sellout streak appeared to be in jeopardy, another capacity crowd watched a mismatch between the team with the best record in the Western Conference against a group making a serious bid as the worst team in NBA history.
Heading into Tuesday's 7 p.m. game against Houston, the Thunder is 18-2 at home this season, which is tied with Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers for the league's best home record. OKC had won 14 straight at home before the Cleveland clunker, three short of the franchise record set in 1994-95.
“Our record is good at home for two reasons,” Brooks said. “We're good, and we've got a good crowd that get's us going. There are times when we don't play well, but our crowd is never going to show disappointment too much.”
Every game so far this season has been a sellout, which will make Tuesday's contest the 35th consecutive sellout dating back to the final 14 games last season.
Though this state's sports identity was built on collegiate teams, fan interest was immediate seven years ago when OKC had a chance to prove itself as a major league town.
When OKC became home to the displaced New Orleans Hornets after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, estimating how many people would show up for home games was anybody's guess.
But no one guessed the Hornets would sell out 18 of the 36 games played during the 2005-06 season at the Ford Center, which had a capacity of 960 more seats than it does now (19,163 compared to 18,203). The Hornets sold out 12 games in 2006-07.
“It was during the Hornets' time here that our community witnessed and experienced those same good feelings in a positive way to a sports team that we, at least for a time, perceived to be our own,” fan Doug Loudenback said. “In a major way, the presence of the Hornets in Oklahoma City solidified and clarified who we are and perceived ourselves to be. The Thunder's presence here is simply a continuation of what had already begun.”
The Thunder arrived from Seattle before the 2008-09 season and stumbled badly out of the gate. Despite a 3-29 start and a coaching change after just 13 games, the franchise still managed 18 sellouts and was at 97.7 percent capacity for home games (see chart).
The number of sellouts and capacity percentage continued to rise and likely will finish at maximum levels this season.
Last fall, despite the NBA being in the midst of a 149-day lockout, the Thunder sold out of its season-ticket allotment (14,000) and started a waiting list. At the time, the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls and Knicks reportedly were the only franchises to have sold out of season tickets for 2011-12.
Comparatively speaking, OKC ticket prices are more than reasonable.
According to the 2012 Team Marketing Report, the Thunder's average ticket price of $47.15 ranked 14th among NBA teams and is below the league's average ticket price of $48.48.
OKC also has an impact with ticket brokers. According to ticket search engine SeatGeek, the average price for Thunder tickets purchased through an online broker was $93.26 this past week, which ranked sixth behind New York ($299.98), the Los Angeles Lakers ($182.59), Chicago ($142.05), Miami ($106.52) and Dallas ($95.29).
Since the 1999-2000 season, the NBA has required every team to offer at least 500 tickets at $10 apiece for each home game. The Thunder offered 3,400 such seats in Loud City this season.
“I don't know if there is a bad seat in the building,” a fan named Leah posted last week in a NewsOK.com survey, adding she purchases only the $10 ticket. “No matter what, Thunder games are fun. It's a great atmosphere. It's fun just to be there.”
Thunder games immediately became a gathering spot for people to see and be seen, and it remains a hot ticket. The Thunder arrived from Seattle with the league's youngest roster and a budding star in Kevin Durant.
OKC now has the league's sixth-youngest roster and the team has grown along with fan interest.
“We have grown with this team,” fan Mike Matos said. “Just the way the franchise landed here with KD in place and the draft picks. Youth, it's what this town adores.”
Spectacular plays from the 23-and-under quartet of Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka continually brings the crowd to its feet, but sometimes the crowd reaction comes first.
“(The Thunder) seems to have at least one really ugly stretch in every game, but the fans never give up,” said Eric Pennell, 27, of Norman. “For example, during an opponent's run there will be a little dip in the action as Russ slowly brings the ball up the floor and you can hear the crowd start to build, trying to push the guys through the tough stretch. You don't see that in many — any? — arenas. Also, the ‘Rus-sell' chant early in the year at the tail end of his horrific shooting slump was something out of a movie. I'll never forget that moment. Still sends chills.”
The Thunder's statewide appeal has been surpassed by its national attention.
“We'll see what happens over time, but I'm still in awe that there is a major league sports team in our state,” said Dale Prevett, 51, a fan from Owasso. “The Tulsa area has been slower to embrace Thunder fever, but it's growing. The Thunder are Oklahoma's team, and it's fun to have a single team to rally around. Even OU and OSU fans can find common ground with OKC.”
It's almost a certainty this entire season will be sold out. A limited number of tickets can be found for some of the 13 remaining home games, and the Thunder holds back 200 tickets every game as part of its Rewards Zone offer, with registration beginning three hours before tipoff.
Opened in 2002 and built for the bargain-basement price of roughly $89 million, the former Ford Center has undergone numerous renovations. Its current $91.9-million face-lift is scheduled to be completed in May.
Thunder vs. Houston Rockets
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722)
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM
Three things to know
* This is the fourth and final meeting between the Thunder and Rockets this season. Oklahoma City is 2-1 against Houston. The Rockets won the last meeting, 96-95, inside the Toyota Center.
* Rockets starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out two to four weeks with a bacterial infection. Lowry is averaging 15.9 points, 7.2 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals this year.
* This is the final game of a five-game homestand for the Thunder. Oklahoma City is 3-1 on the current stand and 18-2 overall inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. After playing the Rockets, the Thunder will have five of its next seven at home as well.