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

Bryan Woodward remembers relocating from Amarillo, Texas, to Oklahoma City at the same time the Thunder came to town.

He looks back on those first few years fondly, even though the Thunder was far from the conference power it has since become.

Fans showed up to games early and stayed late. They were loud and proud.

The excitement and enthusiasm in and around town helped to immediately convert Woodward from a San Antonio Spurs fan into a Thunder die-hard.

But Woodward has noticed a change. Now when he attends games he doesn't witness the same level of passion. He sees fans sitting more than ever before. They're not cheering as hard and don't seem as excited.

“I don't know if I'd say they've become spoiled, but kind of sort of,” Woodward, 28, said. “I think they've become a little bit spoiled from the fact that we've been consistently at the top of the West for several years.”

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.

Three straight division titles, two conference finals appearances and a trip to the NBA Finals haven't created an appreciation but a craving for more.

“It's turning into a greed for more victories. Well, actually, it's not even victories anymore. Now it's just Finals,” said Christian Dixon, an OU student and regular at Thunder games. “We either get to the conference championship or we're disappointed. You can definitely tell we are getting spoiled as far as contention goes.”

Mounting regular season victories and deep playoff runs were fine when the Thunder, in its first four years, seemed to avoid the harsh realities of professional sports. But when Year 5 started with the blockbuster James Harden trade, attitudes began to change. The window of opportunity to win an NBA championship no longer looked as wide open as most once thought. Russell Westbrook's season-ending knee injury in last year's postseason only confirmed that growing conviction.

For some, cynicism has crept in and clouded the current mindset.

Every move is now questioned, every decision now scrutinized. The benefit of the doubt is on the verge of extinction.

It started with the Harden trade, gained steam with Westbrook's injury and only snowballed throughout the summer. Kevin Martin moved on to Minnesota. The Thunder couldn't close the deal with a replacement. Western Conference rivals closed the gap. And Westbrook needed a second surgery.

“At the beginning, it was excitement. We were just happy to have a team,” said Thunder fan Cody Little. “So even if we lose in the playoffs, our fans were just happy to have a team that was competing in the playoffs.

“Then, after the run when we go to the Finals and then come back the next year, have the best seed and then Westbrook gets hurt, it just kind of deflated us. We started struggling in the second round, faced a little bit of adversity and we don't have the same fan base as that first (playoff) year against the Lakers.

“That shows on Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff. When things are good, everyone's positive, but as soon as there's a little adversity … everything changes.”

The scapegoats

In each of the Thunder's first five seasons at least one member of the team has drawn the ire of the fans. Hey, you've got to blame someone when things don't go well, right? In Oklahoma City case, the chatter has gotten progressively louder with the passing of each year. Here are the biggest scapegoats in the Thunder's brief history.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK

Season: 2008-2010

Reason: It all boiled down to one question. Is he a point guard? Most might claim to have amnesia now, but there was a time when Westbrook was as polarizing in Oklahoma as he was throughout the rest of the country. As a rookie, he was wild, erratic and turnover-prone. The noise quieted down in Westbrook's second season but didn't truly subside until he strung together a stellar playoff series against the Lakers in 2010, when he averaged 20.5 points, six rebounds, six assists and 1.7 steals.

Devil's advocate: Who else was the Thunder going to turn to? Earl Watson was limited, and every other point guard the Thunder had at the time — Shaun Livingston, Chucky Atkins, Mike Wilks and Kevin Ollie — were either trying to get back in the NBA or past their prime.

JEFF GREEN

Season: 2009-10

Reason: Defense and rebounding. Green was horrendous in both areas, and his inability to guard his man or rebound consistently handicapped the Thunder. In 209 games in OKC, Green pulled down at least 10 rebounds just 28 times. He never averaged more than 6.7 rebounds. Making matters worse, Green's playing time was disproportionate to his production. He never averaged less than 36.8 minutes during his 2 1/2 seasons in town, which only highlighted his flaws and made him a bigger target for critics.

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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 NewsOK.com'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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