Only a couple years ago, the Thunder opened training camp as the most hated franchise in sports.
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.
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.
"I'd love to see them in a Chemistry Contest," ESPN.com 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.