It didn't take long for John Leach, the Oklahoma City Thunder's director of events and entertainment, to realize who he was working with four seasons ago.
The preseason home opener in 2008 immediately showed Leach what to expect from the ever-passionate Thunder fans.
It was Oct. 14, 2008, and the Thunder was making its Oklahoma City debut against the Los Angeles Clippers in a preseason game.
Leach had worked with the Houston Rockets, Charlotte Bobcats and Seattle SuperSonics. This was far from his first NBA experience and so going into the final quarter, Leach asked the public address announcer to say to the crowd, “Hey get on your feet for the fourth quarter.”
And the announcer did.
“After I asked him to say that, I just kept doing my job,” Leach said. “Because when I'm working, I've got 8 million things I'm doing. I'm talking to the video guy, I'm talking to our stage manager, I'm talking to the spotlight guys, I'm talking to the lighting guys, the music guy and everybody else, and so I'm doing my thing.”
About four or five minutes passed before Leach stopped what he was doing. He looked around. The crowd of 16,410 was still standing.
“I was like, ‘I'm going to love it here,'” he said. “I was dumbfounded. This is a preseason game. When I say that I was dumbfounded, I mean I would have never expected them to already be there, that's usually something that you find in the playoffs with fans. Or maybe you see that towards the end of the season when your team is jockeying for a seed in the playoffs. You don't really factor that in during the early parts of the season because it's such a long season. Our fans were connected from day one.”
A new season
The Thunder opens the 2012 preseason with a two-game road trip beginning Oct. 10 in Hidalgo, Texas, versus the Houston Rockets, followed by an Oct. 12 meeting in Salt Lake City with the Utah Jazz. The preseason home opener is Oct. 16 against the Charlotte Bobcats at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Stoking the emotion
If Leach were to name everything his department is responsible for, or a part of, it would be one of those lists that hits the floor and just keeps rolling.
So he's gotten good at the CliffsNotes version.
“We produce the show that you see when you go to the Chesapeake Energy Arena,” he said.
That includes, but is certainly not limited to, the Thunder Girls, Rumble, drummers, the national anthem, halftime entertainment, on-court promotions, concourse activities, videos and music.
“We don't create the emotion,” Leach said, “we just stoke it.