For team chairman Clay Bennett, one game during the Thunder’s inaugural season — a New Year’s Eve win over Golden State — will always have special relevance.
"I remember thinking, ‘We’ve turned the corner,’ from being a purely raw, start-up organization to more of an organization that had found its footing and was beginning to understand our relationship with the community,” Bennett said. "That’s also when the basketball team began to develop its own identity.”
The Thunder sold out nearly half its home games. Combined with solid attendance during the Hornets’ two seasons in the Ford Center, the Oklahoma City market showed it can support an NBA franchise.
One reason the New Year’s Eve win was significant is that’s the night fans seemed to accept the Thunder was their team, not an adopted team that was transplanted because of Hurricane Katrina.
As the organization heads into its second season, the next step is having fans emotionally invest in all 82 games.
"When the Hornets were here it was clearly a home phenomenon,” said OKC mayor Mick Cornett. "You didn’t sense the community was following them on the road. With the Thunder there was a little bit of that.
"Early in the season if you went into a restaurant, it wasn’t a given a road game would be on TV. But at the end of the year you started seeing it a little more. That’s a growth area, especially if the franchise gets to a point it’s competing for a playoff spot.”