COACH Scott Brooks' description of the Oklahoma City Thunder's momentum-seizing victory in San Antonio on Monday night — “Total team effort” — perfectly described the formula that in just four seasons has brought the Thunder to the NBA Finals.
Brooks was talking about his players, of course, who had just taken a 3-games-to-2 advantage in the series. They closed out the Western Conference Finals with a stirring victory Wednesday night at home, where the other crucial pieces of Team Thunder were in evidence — members of a first-class front office, and the best home crowd in the league.
Just seven years after the NBA first came to town, temporarily, Oklahoma City is the league's best story, generating the sort of overwhelmingly positive publicity you can't put a price tag on.
The story began in 2005 when Oklahoma City hustled to the rescue of the New Orleans Hornets, who had been displaced that summer by Hurricane Katrina. A fan base wired toward college sports fell in love with the Hornets during their two-year stay.
A group of Oklahoma City businessmen led by Clay Bennett bought the Seattle SuperSonics in 2006. The next year, the Sonics' young general manager, Sam Presti, drafted Kevin Durant with the No. 2 pick, after the Portland Trailblazers had taken Greg Oden. Durant has become a superstar; injuries have crippled Oden.
The Sonics were moved here and renamed in 2008 after efforts to get a new arena in Seattle fell through. That first Thunder team started 1-12; Presti fired P.J. Carlesimo and promoted Brooks. The Thunder wound up with 23 wins and hasn't looked back.
It won 50 games the next season, losing in the first round of the playoffs to the mighty Los Angeles Lakers, who would win the NBA title. The Thunder won 55 the next year, losing to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals. In this lockout-shortened year, Oklahoma City had the second-best record in the West, bounced L.A. and Dallas in the playoffs, then overcame an 0-2 deficit to beat the venerable Spurs.