Tonight, for the first time since saying "I do’s” with the Thunder, Oklahoma City fans welcome back their old flame.
This Torn-Between-Two-Lovers storyline is the stuff that drives ratings for Dr. Phil and Jerry Springer, and ESPN couldn’t resist, either. But OKC fan Mary Harris doesn’t see a conflict with tonight’s 8:30 game between the Thunder and the New Orleans Hornets.
"I’ll always love the Hornets, even though I have a new team to love and support,” said Harris, 62. "If they had not played here we would not be in the NBA right now. I hope everybody gives them a loud, enthusiastic welcome.
"During the game, I can yell for both teams if I want to.”
Thunder officials will enhance pre-game introductions for the Hornets, acknowledging the special bond fans developed with Chris Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler and Hornets coach Byron Scott, who are key reasons the Thunder now plays in the Ford Center.
The Hornets’ two seasons in the Ford Center proved to be an audition for a city that barely registered on the NBA’s radar, and OKC fans passed with flying colors. Now some of those fans are dealing with mixed feelings.
"I never cared for basketball before they came,” said Jerry Padberg, 77, of Oklahoma City. "Now I love it. I trust the Thunder will grow like the Hornets did and become a great team. But the Hornets will always have a special place in my heart.”
Neither team is meeting expectations. The Thunder, 1-11, is mired in a nine-game losing streak. The Hornets, viewed as a championship contender, are 5-5 and have lost five of their last seven following a 3-0 start. Many local fans used the words "first love” about the Hornets. Some fans like Ray Charlesworth, a season ticket holder from Oklahoma City, said he and his family have yet to "connect” with the Thunder like they did the Hornets.
"I don’t think it has to do with wins and losses,” Charlesworth said. "We don’t expect a winner. Not now. I believe this ‘connect’ has to do with attitude, passion, desire, emotion, personalities and player interaction.
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