In just four seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder went from being the league’s laughing stock to the NBA Finals.
With a 3-29 record out of the starting gate in 2008-09, the Thunder was on pace to set a league record for the lowest winning percentage in a season.
Since then, it’s been all good. There’s been nothing but playoff appearances, a greater winning percentage and a higher finish each season.
It’s abundantly clear the Thunder is off to a tremendous start in OKC, but there’s no telling what status the franchise will possess 20 years from now.
With its current roster fraught with amazing young talent and renewed contracts, the Thunder seems destined to win multiple championships if it can continue with the same steady improvement it has shown since the Seattle SuperSonics relocated here in July 2008.
However, given the significant challenges OKC faces with limited television revenue as the league’s third-smallest market, it also is possible the Thunder could struggle to stay afloat in the next 20 seasons.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti comes from the most captivating NBA success story of the millennium, learning his craft on staff with the San Antonio Spurs, a small-market franchise that has won 50-plus games each of the last 14 seasons.
As shrewd as the 36-year-old Presti has been since taking charge of the franchise in June 2007, the Thunder wouldn’t exist had it not been for the shrewdness of OKC civic leaders and the willingness of taxpayers.
An $89.2 million arena in downtown Oklahoma City was built three years before the New Orleans Hornets relocated for two seasons after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005.
Oklahoma City’s support of the Hornets exceeded all expectations and the two-year period essentially served as an NBA tryout to see if pro sports had a chance to succeed in an area forever ruled by collegiate sports. The league approved relocation of the SuperSonics and Chesapeake Energy Arena has since undergone $94.4 million in renovations.
Should the NBA landscape change within the next 20 years, history has shown the city will change in stride.
“I don’t know if I can read the future for you,” City Manager Jim Couch said with a chuckle. “Right now, Chesapeake Arena is among the tops in the country, but how long we can keep current and continue to do so, that’s anybody’s guess.”
Couch said “The Peake” could endure further changes, depending on what’s needed.
“One thing you ask with any facility is, ‘Are the bones good enough? Do you have the size and the underneath supporting activity to keep the arena current?’ ” Couch said. “I think we do, but you don’t know what the long-term requirements are going to be. There may be a TV screen at each seat in 20 years. We could probably do that, I would guess. You just don’t know where the world’s going to take you, but right now it’s a pretty adequate facility.”
No matter what the future holds, Oklahoma City will be able to stay current if its undefeated run of MAPS proposals remains intact.
To date, Oklahoma City taxpayers have approved all three MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects) initiatives, which have totaled more than $1.6 billion — the original MAPS ($363 million for nine downtown projects, including the arena); MAPS For Kids ($470 million for 72 new and renovated schools in the OKC school district); and MAPS 3 ($777 million for eight downtown-area projects).
“The prospect for Oklahoma City is really good for all kinds of reasons,” Couch said. “Why I think we’re poised to still be good in 10 or 15 years is because of MAPS 3. We really haven’t spent dollar one on MAPS 3, which will have a significant impact on downtown Oklahoma City. Just like MAPS 1, where we had the private investment to follow the public investment, we anticipate the same thing is going to happen with MAPS 3.
“I think a lot of it is how well the city performs. Can we get everything built with good quality, on time and on budget, like we’ve done in the past? It’s also things like what’s the economy going to be like? What’s the vision if that happens?”