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Thunder has gone from being hated to loved

Columnist Jenni Carlson writes that the Thunder was the most hated franchise in sports when they arrived in Oklahoma City. Now, they are loved.
by Jenni Carlson Modified: September 28, 2010 at 3:42 am •  Published: September 27, 2010

Only a couple years ago, the Thunder opened training camp as the most hated franchise in sports.

This year?

NBATV dispatched a camera crew to Oklahoma City to document media day on Monday and the opening of practice on Tuesday, and ESPN.com deemed the Thunder the No. 1 threat to Los Angeles in the Western Conference, and Kevin Durant received messages from folks via Twitter saying they expect his team to win the NBA title this season.

The Thunder opens camp today as one of the darlings of the NBA. This bunch is being touted and celebrated, watched and cheered. It's quite a turnaround, and we're not just talking about the team's dramatic 27-game improvement last season.

This franchise was loathed when it came to Oklahoma City two years ago, residue from its exodus from Seattle.

Now, the lovefest is on.

What happened?

As with many things related to the Thunder, it starts with Durant. Everyone, friend and foe alike, loves this guy. He plays the game with present-day flare but an old-school attitude.

That's how Durant has always been. People are just recognizing it now, whether in the playoffs this spring or at the World Championships this summer.

"He's showing it to the world," Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook said.

Durant wows people with what he does on the court, but it's his attitude off the court that has won over the masses. He announced his massive contract extension quietly on Twitter, using 140 characters on the social networking site instead of a one-hour prime-time special. He played for Team USA this summer when other NBA superstars declined. He bought a random fan a pair of shoes during a trip to the mall back home in Washington, D.C.

Add those sorts of things to Durant's skills, and there is no more lovable superstar in all of sports.

"Kevin's a very humble guy," Westbrook said.

Durant is easy to cheer.

So, too, is the Thunder's style. These guys are fun to watch. They pass. They defend. They get after it. They play a brand of basketball that's easy on the eyes.

It's not like the Spurs. I mean, San Antonio has gotten great results for many years with its methodical style, but unless you're a Spurs fan, you wouldn't clear your calendar to watch one of their games on TV. It's not extremely watchable.

The Thunder, though, is an exciting team.

What's more, people can tell that these guys like each other. It's not some sort of on-court act or in-game ruse. There are some real, genuine friendships here.

Continue reading this story on the...

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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