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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

"I'd love to see them in a Chemistry Contest," columnist Bill Simmons wrote last season.

Simmons, if you aren't aware, loves the Thunder. He hearts Durant and Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green and ... well, he's as big a Thunder fan as anyone living outside the 405 area code.

This is the same guy, by the way, who penned a nearly 15,000-word column about the torture and torment that this very franchise created when it left Seattle. He said it was stolen. He said the move was reprehensible. He even took to calling the team the Zombies, in homage to Seattle.

Still, he can't help loving the Thunder.

Ditto for the rest of the basketball world.

What happens on the court is the main reason for that, but there are a couple off-court reasons, too.

First off, Clay Bennett is largely a silent owner. He grants few interviews and garners little attention. He just sits courtside in his navy blazers.

What if he were like Mark Cuban?

If Bennett was jumping around and yelling at refs and acting the fool, it would be much more difficult for outsiders to like the Thunder. Instead, the man who became the bad guy in Seattle has faded into the background and allowed the team to become the story.

The decision to leave the Sonics' brand behind in Seattle was important, too. Much of the animosity directed at other relocated franchises — the Colts, for example — stems from the fact that everything was taken. The nickname. The logo. The history. Losing a team is hard enough, but losing an identity pours salt in the wound.

If the Thunder were still the Sonics, the scab would be picked every time they were mentioned. Instead, the wounds have had a chance to heal and the Thunder has had an opportunity to build its own identity.

It's an identity that people have come to love. Media pundits and basketball fans alike have taken to this team because of their star, their style and their substance.

The franchise that folks loved to hate is now feeling the love.

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