Opinions about stopping the watch parties in Thunder Alley are like blue shirts these days.
Everyone in Oklahoma City seems to have one.
Some people think one bad apple spoiled the whole thing. Others believe officials caved at the first sign of trouble. And folks believe more security or less booze or limited crowds or admission fees would solve the problem.
Maybe all of that is true.
Maybe it's not.
I don't know.
But here's what I do know — Oklahoma City has lost something special.
Later this week, when the Western Conference Finals swing from San Antonio to Oklahoma City, Thunder Alley will open three hours before tipoff. There will be music. There will be games. There will be concessions.
But once the game starts, the party stops.
And for the past few weeks, the best part of the party came once the game tipped off. Watching the action on the massive screen affixed on the northwest side of The Peake, people would cheer and chant just like they were in the arena.
It was an amazing scene.
That changed a week ago when the crowd swelled and the vibe changed. There were fights. There were tensions. Then, of course, came the shooting only a few blocks away that injured eight people.
The confessed shooter had been in Thunder Alley, and more than likely, that means his gun was there, too.
Why, oh why, something so good has to go so bad?
Those watch parties in Thunder Alley were like nothing we'd ever seen in Oklahoma City. Anyone could be a part. Young. Old. Black. White. Male. Female. Rich. Poor.
No doubt there's a similarly great cross-section of fans inside The Peake, but the reality is that every fan can't afford a ticket. Even though the Thunder has some of the most reasonable prices in the NBA, tickets remain out of reach for some folks.
That wasn't a concern in Thunder Alley.
Everyone could have a piece of the action there. You could join the Thunder phenomenon gripping our state. You could feel a part of something bigger than yourself.
Those types of connections don't happen every day, and when they do, they resonate. They linger. They stick.
I still remember when our high school wrestling team won a state title when I was a kid growing up in small-town Kansas. State titles weren't all that common for us, so when word spread about the wrestlers' return, the whole town went out to welcome them.
That's when the procession started.
I have no idea if it was planned or if it just happened, but before you knew it, our Oldsmobile had joined a line of cars and pickups following the bus.
My mom honked the horn all the way into town. My brother and I laughed the whole way.
The horn on that Olds never worked right again.
I have to believe there are folks who will look back in 20 or 30 years and have the same kind of vivid memories from Thunder Alley. Something they saw. Something they did. Something they felt.
Cities try to create that sense of community all the time. They spend millions on events and venues and ideas that they hope will bond people, but usually, the strongest ties happen in the most unexpected ways. They are organic, and they are powerful.
That's why I'm certain the Thunder didn't want to ax the watch parties.
Ditto for Oklahoma City officials.
Who would want to end something so unique? Who would want to pull the plug on something so grand?
No one wanted this.
And frankly, even if officials would've decided that an alternative was feasible, it wouldn't have been the same. The dynamics would've been different. The vibe would've been changed.
What Oklahoma City had has been lost.
It was amazing and special.
Special while it lasted.