Thunder Love Unites a State

Basketball team bridges many of Oklahoma's divides
BY Phillip O'Connor poconnor@opubco.com Published: June 11, 2012

“I'm two notches away from tacky,” she said.

But she no longer thinks about leaving the city.

Fans' stories

For some fans, backing the Thunder has meant overcoming logistical hurdles.

Anna Lou and Dale Caid, both 81, have made every home game for the last two years. Not bad when you consider their age. But consider their commute. Residents of Granite in southwestern Oklahoma, they drive about 290 miles round-trip to each game.

“I think they're the Elmer's Glue of the state, pulling everybody together,” Anna Lou Caid said of the team. “It's fine to call it the Oklahoma City Thunder, but I think it's the Oklahoma Thunder. This team belongs to all of us.”

Craig Downing, 46, also knows the Thunder road more traveled. For years, he drove 250 miles each way from his Panhandle home as a Thunder season ticket holder. On the eve of this championship year, with college tuition to pay, he gave them up.

That's when friends with tickets stepped in. He'll be going to a game this week with Scott and Brent Nichols from Beaver.

Carter Jennings, 30, is a third-generation Oklahoma Sooner fan who hates anything orange. Eric Epplin, 30, grew up in Stillwater and played drums in the Oklahoma State University marching band. The two became unlikely friends while working together as assistant district attorneys in Oklahoma County.

Both are also huge Thunder fans, who attended a few games together in recent years, including Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.

“We have both discussed the fact that we love the Thunder for the simple fact that it gives us a chance to root for the same team and not be at each other's throats whenever sports are discussed,” Jennings said.

As Yukon captain of the Thunder Blue Alliance, a team fan club, Lisa Warren has seen how the Thunder is pulling people together as never before. The Yukon chapter has 161 members, many of whom gather for watch parties at Louie's Grill and Bar. She's also met fellow fan club captains such as Randi Cutburth, from Burns Flat, Makayla Redding, from Helena, and Cynthia Evans, of Ratliff City.

“I had to Google to see where these towns were,” said Warren, 52, a secretary in the education department at Mardel's corporate office.

Shirley Graham is no relation to the famous evangelist, Billy Graham, but she does preach the NBA gospel wherever she goes.

“Everybody who know me knows I'm a huge Thunder fan,” said Graham, 54, of Tulsa whose sales job with Crown Products Inc. has her to traveling to Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. “I convert everyone I can.”

As one-time Dallas Cowboys season ticket holders and college basketball fans, Graham and her husband, James, at first took no interest in the NBA. Now she can't imagine Oklahoma without it.

“This is a state team,” she said.

Thunder ticket holder Allene Bottom agrees. Bottom, 75, lives on a farm near Hammon in western Oklahoma.

“I think it's brought people from all over the state together,” she said. “I don't understand why they call it a small market, it's statewide.”

Need any more proof of the state's devotion to the team?

On the north edge of Oklahoma County, Mark's Short Stop, 2915 E Waterloo Road has erected a marquee sign championing a team member for the nation's highest office.

The sign reads: “Serge Ibaka for President.” (He really wasn't born here.)

Contributing: Staff Writers Bryan Painter and Gina Mizell

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