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Oklahoma City Thunder: Has the team's success changed OKC fans?

When the Thunder embarks on Year 6 two weeks from Wednesday, the team will do so in front of a fan base that seems to be growing increasingly restless. The definition of success has changed. The bar has been raised.
by Darnell Mayberry and Anthony Slater Published: October 13, 2013

/articleid/3893207/1/pictures/2239019">Photo - NBA BASKETBALL: NBA BASKETBALL / OVERVIEW: Fans cheer during Game 1 in the second round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Sunday, May 5, 2013. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
NBA BASKETBALL: NBA BASKETBALL / OVERVIEW: Fans cheer during Game 1 in the second round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Sunday, May 5, 2013. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

Devil's advocate: Green was playing out of position. He was a small forward playing power forward. But because that guy named Kevin Durant mans the small forward position Green had to make the best of a bad situation if he wanted court time.


Season: 2011-present

Reason: You name it. Good luck finding someone who appreciates Perkins these days. His offense is hard to watch. His turnovers are inexplicably high. His rebounds and blocked shots are inexplicably low. Yet no matter the opponent or matchup, the Thunder invariably trots out Perkins for the first six to eight minutes of every half.

Devil's advocate: Perkins is good at what he does. That's defense. He has the size, strength and savvy to stand toe-to-toe with post players and make their nights tough. He isn't always effective, but no one would be when the task is stopping the very best players in the world.


Season: 2012-present

Reason: His rotations are rigid. He doesn't play young players. And his offensive system is overly simplistic. Those have been the knocks on Brooks for quite sometime. But the critics grew fangs in the NBA Finals before going for blood when Brooks failed to make any discernible adjustments following Russell Westbrook's season-ending injury in last year's postseason. Now, many are wondering if Brooks has taken this team as far as he can.

Devil's advocate: How many other coaches can boast of boosting a franchise's winning percentage in five straight seasons? How many other coaches have taken their teams to two conference finals and the NBA Finals in the past three years? How many other coaches have overseen the development of young players year after year, developing two All-Stars and two All-Defensive performers? How many other coaches can claim they had a top five offensive and defensive team last year? Brooks can do all of the above. He must be doing something right.

Come early, stay late: A declining trend in Thunder fandom

Cody Little was in the arena back in 2010, watching the Thunder fall in Game 6 to the Lakers, eliminating OKC from its first postseason since moving to the city.

“Everyone stood up, even after we lost,” Little remembers. “The whole place clapped for about five minutes. That was the thing that separated our fan base from other places.”

But Little, a season-ticket holder since 2008, was also there for plenty of games this past year, when the crowd, in blowout wins or losses, would commonly filter out throughout the fourth quarter.

“If they're up 30,” Little said, “the place is empty by the time the game's over.”

Never was that growing trend more evident than Game 5 of the Thunder's second-round series against the Grizzlies. Trailing 3-1 in the series and by double-digits early in the fourth quarter, many of OKC's frustrated fans dispersed toward the exits, missing a frantic and dramatic comeback that fell just short.

“Two years ago, three years ago, that wouldn't have happened,” Little said. “If we had an elimination game and we were on the verge of being eliminated, the place would have been full until the final buzzer.”

It's maybe the most tangible sign of a changing attitude among the fan base, from “happy we have a team” to “championship or bust.”

Success is great, but it has its unintended side effects.

“It's a little alarming to me,” Thunder fan Christian Dixon said. “Winning is just expected here now, so whether it's regular season or playoffs, it's something we're really taking for granted far too quickly. The mentality here has definitely changed.”

What the fans are saying

CHRISTIAN DIXON: “One of my biggest fears is that we'll develop a spoiled mentality. Like at OU, it's national championship or bust. I'm worried we're getting to a point like that with the Thunder.”

ANDY NEWMAN: “I think everybody's fired up and looking forward to the season. I just think there's a lot of apprehension about whether or not Westbrook will come back healthy and when he's going to come back.”

CODY LITTLE: “Now I think we're used to having the team, so even if we are blowing them out, we want to leave. If we are down a lot, we want to leave. I think that special thing that we had with our fan base is kind of going away.”

KYLE HARRISON: “Hopefully Reggie Jackson can step up and play pretty aggressively. He seems like he's got a lot of the same qualities and attributes that Russ had when he was young and first entering the league. So I don't see any reason why he can't step up.”

BRYAN WOODWARD: “I would have loved to have kept Harden, but, man, Serge, Russell, Kevin and then Harden? All that money, I don't think they would have been able to do it. I think they would have strapped themselves down too much. I mean, you can devote all your money to four players but you wouldn't have any role players.”

by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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by Anthony Slater
Thunder Beat Writer
Anthony Slater started on the Thunder beat in the summer of 2013, joining after two years as's lead sports blogger and web editor. A native Californian, Slater attended Sonoma State for two years before transferring to Oklahoma State in...
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