With Monday night's 114-96 victory over the Phoenix Suns at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder is now 5-0 in games played on New Year's Eve, and it was a Dec. 31 contest when the franchise began to morph into one of the NBA's top franchises.
OKC was 3-29 (.094) on Dec. 31, 2008, and on a record-setting pace to beat out the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers for the worst season in NBA history at 9-73 (.110).
The Thunder stopped its hemorrhaging that night with a 107-100 victory over the Golden State Warriors while using a starting lineup that featured Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — both 20 years old — plus Desmond Mason, Jeff Green and a 7-foot tattoo billboard named Robert Swift.
Beginning with that victory over the Warriors, the Thunder closed out the 2008-09 season with a 20-30 mark finish at 23-59. A franchise that was winning 9.4 percent of its games heading into New Year's Eve closed the season by winning 40 percent of its starts.
Starting with the 2009-10 season, only San Antonio (186-77) has a better record than OKC (176-84).
“Yes, that was a big win for me,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who was 2-17 as interim coach after replacing P.J. Carlesimo following a 1-12 to the relocated franchise. “That's when everything kind of turned for us for the better after that rough start.”
Durant said he remembers “just about every game I've played in” and shook his head while recalling the 3-29 start.
Looking for a place to knock on wood, a superstitious Durant playfully knocked on the wall behind him when reminded the Thunder was unbeaten on New Year's Eve.
“It's a special day, going to a new year, turning a new leaf over, I guess,” Durant said. “But for us, it's just another game on our schedule that we've go to try to win.”
A combination of good scheduling and good fortune are why OKC has been able to play at home every New Year's Eve since the franchise's inception.
NBA teams are allowed to request three “priority” dates during the season, but there are no guarantees for games played within the “holiday season” of Dec. 23 through Jan. 2.
The process begins with SMG, which manages both Chesapeake Energy Arena and the adjacent Cox Convention Center, leaving Dec. 31 open for potential Thunder and AHL Oklahoma City Barons games to coincide with downtown's annual “Opening Night” celebration.
“We take it one year at a time because the league sets the schedule and we can only request a New Year's Eve game,” said Dan Mahoney, the Thunder's vice president of communications/community relations. “We always request it because it's such an important part of what the community does with New Year's Eve.”
Needless to say, the Thunder is in favor of playing every New Year's Eve in OKC.
“We can never say this will be a long-standing tradition,” Mahoney said. “We like what has occurred because it's such a great connection to ‘Opening Night.' So far so good, but it's never a guarantee.”