Local sports coverage is slipping in Oklahoma. As a former member of the Tulsa media, it saddens me to make that statement. Covering local sports was my passion and my livelihood. Back then I sensed it, and even more so now, I see the profession slowly dying.
There is no longer an investment being made in real, substantial journalism. When I tune into local news these days, I cringe because each station’s sportscast is predictable and dull. Each channel airs a slightly altered version of the same show.
It’s fine to show highlights from the Drillers, Shock, Talons, Barons, OU, OSU, and of course the Thunder. However, I have a feeling no one is flipping on their TV to see a couple of lousy highlights. Nobody is sitting at home anxiously awaiting 20 seconds of Redhawks footage.
So why do stations fall into this cookie cutter pattern? Is it because the anchors and producers are afraid to miss something or is it because they’ve been in the same routine for so long that they’re just too comfy and complacent to think outside the box? Frankly, I know it’s the latter because I was guilty of it when I sat at the anchor desk.
Remember the best date you ever went on? As the night grew late, and the hours slipped away, you knew it had to come to an end. You held on as long as possible, maybe even talking in the driveway in your truck for another hour. But eventually, you parted ways and there was that immediate feeling of disappointment that something so fun, and potentially so special, had to come to an end.
Well, Thunder fans, your team just treated you to the best season of your life. Even a few days later, you’re still thinking about each incredible moment, every amazing victory, and how you just didn’t want it to end. Naturally, you’ll also let your mind wander to what could have been. The close calls, the near misses, and the wasted opportunities will replay in your mind again and again.
If only the date could keep going. If only the Thunder could take the court one more time.
Trust me Thunder fans, momentary disappointment should soon give way to hopeful anticipation. You can be upset at losing the series, maybe even a little angry at the inability of the Thunder to close out games in the fourth quarter. You can question some of the shot selection and the plays drawn up in the final minutes of those nail-biting playoff losses. It’s all part of the fan’s necessary healing process.
What you can’t do is call this team a bunch of underachievers. In no way are you allowed to dwell on the negatives, when the positives are so blatantly overwhelming, and it’s definitely not okay for you to be calling for widespread changes to the roster or the coaching staff.
Look, in three short seasons, this franchise has put itself in a position no one thought possible. From 23 wins in the first year, to the playoffs in the year two, and now a run all the way to the Western Conference Finals. How could anyone possibly be upset with this progression? How could anyone possibly think this team isn’t right on schedule? Championships in professional sports take time. Successful franchises are built one block at a time, and the process is usually much longer than three seasons.
A few weeks ago, the Tulsa World published this article about how more Tulsans are embracing the Oklahoma City Thunder. Overall, the tone of the article is positive. It cites increasing ticket sales and rising TV ratings from the East side of the state. However, if you read the article and read some of the comments, you’ll quickly realize just how ignorant, jealous and petty so many folks are about the Thunder bearing the name “Oklahoma City.”
I don’t want to admit this is true, but having lived in Tulsa for almost seven years now, there is an inferiority complex for too many people when it comes to competition with OKC. These are the same imbeciles who need something to be offended by, something to rant about on sports radio, and who cling to the past like it’s keeping them alive. The ridiculous sentiment of this pathetic crowd is, “They’re not the Oklahoma Thunder, so why should I care? They don’t market themselves to Tulsa or play games up here, so why I am going to support a team that doesn’t acknowledge me?”
Really? Sometimes you people sound like too much like the kid who gets picked last for dodge ball. Did you ever think it’s because maybe you’re not good enough? Instead of whining and complaining just get better.
Let’s face facts here; Oklahoma City had a vision back in the mid-nineties. The MAPS project was executed flawlessly and now OKC has transformed itself into a big league city that is deserving of a professional franchise. Tulsa is a fantastic place to live, and offers plenty of things that OKC doesn’t, but it just isn’t on the same level when it comes to being ready for pro sports. Sure, Tulsa has the BOK Center downtown. It’s a beautiful facility and it’s a huge step in the right direction. But Tulsa also has a city council that squabbles incessantly, excruciatingly slow development along the river, and surface streets that make this town the perfect place to open up your own alignment shop. What takes Oklahoma City ten years seems to take Tulsa 25 years to accomplish. Believe me, Tulsa is changing and improving, but it’s not there yet.
The famous motto of Oakland Raiders’ owner Al Davis is somewhat ironic considering the Raiders do everything but win. However, those three little words perfectly describe how almost every American sports fan feels about his or her team.
I am a fan just like you and frankly, I’m sick and tired of the expectations that are placed on me. I don’t need to hear another coach, player, owner, executive, or media member call me out for not being supportive. Here’s how this works: You (the team) create a successful product, and then I show up. I’m not going to show up if there’s nothing in it for me. Selfish? You betcha. Wrong? Nope.
There’s no way athletic directors Joe Castiglione and Mike Holder enjoy seeing thousands of empty seats at Lloyd Noble and Gallagher-Iba, but the fan is the last person I’m going to blame for those arenas looking no better than junior high gyms. Nobody is expecting Oklahoma to turn into a basketball crazed state anytime soon. That being said, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the Sooners and Cowboys to make the NCAA tournament four out of every five seasons. These are schools with a decent amount of basketball tradition. They are big-time universities with big bucks coming from big boosters trying to get into a tournament that’s anything but exclusive. If Jeff Capel and Travis Ford can’t give me something to look forward to, then why should I pay through the nose to watch a team hoping to sneak into the NIT?
Good economy or down economy, fan dollars are stretched thin. If I have to pick and choose carefully, why am I going to pick a loser? Some claim the Thunder is taking dollars away from the college basketball teams in this state. I think that’s right, but it’s not because of over saturation in the market. One team is on the rise and sells out; the other teams flounder around .500 and hear crickets during home games. Fans will go see a winning product, period.
A few days ago I came back to Oklahoma for the first time in a couple of months. I felt at home before my truck tires even touched the driveway of my parents’ house. A comfortable feeling washed over me as soon as I crossed over the state line and saw that big “Welcome to Oklahoma” sign. It was a sense of familiarity, belonging, and identity. My license plate no longer says “Native America” but my head and my heart say I’ll always be an Okie.
Sports is part of that identity. It was so good to stop at a Loves’ station outside Sallisaw and see the t-shirts for sale. Two choices, orange or crimson. Back on the highway, the car in front of me showcased an upside down Longhorn sticker in its rear window. A few miles more and another driver had his OSU car flags furiously flapping on both sides of the car. Then the best of both worlds, when a car on the exit ramp displayed a “House Divided” license plate frame. After shuffling through radio stations for hundreds of miles, the scanning stopped when I heard the familiar voices of my favorite sports talk hosts. These are the little things I took for granted when I lived here for so many years. People ask, “what do you miss about Oklahoma?” The usual answers always come out first, family and friends, my house, my church, blah, blah, blah. Crossing the state line the other day made me realize, it’s so much more than that, it’s the sports culture in this state I miss. (I miss you too Mom, no need to get offended here.)
If you’re from this state, you likely have a fierce allegiance to OU or OSU. Pick a side and don’t turn back. So many states are watered down with loyalty divided between several major universities and multiple professional franchises. In Oklahoma, its simpler. Our way of life is simple, our sports landscape is simple.
Even though we may be divided along college lines, we can be united behind the Thunder. I used to think pro sports wasn’t a good idea for Oklahoma. We’ve got the great college atmosphere, we don’t need the NBA to enhance our status. Let’s just say I’ve digested large quantities of crow. This whole state has Thunder fever. Even though I’ve never been a huge NBA fan, I miss the sense of pride that comes from proving the rest of the country wrong. There’s room here for more than just college football. Not only is Oklahoma worthy of the a team, it is quickly becoming one of the most respected franchises in the NBA. The fan base is energized and unified by a team with players and coaches that represent our values and want to be part of this community. Maybe this is silly or over the top, but in my mind, Thunder fans see the success of their team as a big slap in the face to the East Coast, West Coast, big cities, and so-called elites. That’s the mentality of Oklahoma sports fans. I love that mentality. I miss that mentality.
The teams here are the major parts of Oklahoma sports culture, but again, it’s the little things I miss the most. I miss reading the fishing report in the paper, seeing that largemouth are good on crankbaits at McGee Creek, then thinking about which one of my lures I’d use. I miss Thursday night high school football. Every week, a handful of games played before the rest where the schools get showcased and the kids feel that much more special. I miss the public golf courses here. You’re never far from a teebox in Oklahoma, and you can usually get in a round all the way into November.
I miss the subtle jabs exchanged by Sooners and Cowboys over the airwaves. I miss living and experiencing Bedlam every single day. It’s not limited to the football field or the basketball court, Bedlam is alive and well at Wal-mart, at the bank, at the grocery store, and yes, even in the church sanctuaries.
I miss the sports personalities here. Like them or not, guys like Bob Barry Jr., Jim Traber, Al Eshbach, John Holcomb, and Al Jerkens are practically institutions in this state. We come to expect those voices and those faces delivering our sports news, telling our sports stories, and asking questions on our behalf. Why are guys like that popular? Because they’re loyal to this state and can’t possibly see themselves living or working anywhere else.
I miss hearing Bob Stoops say “in a good way” in every other sentence. I miss Pistol Pete’s freakishly large head. I miss hearing Bob Barry say “Touchdown Oklahoma!” and a high-pitched “pistols firing!” coming from the pipes of Dave Hunziker.
One day maybe I’ll once again be a full-time resident of this great state. I hope so. No matter where I might lay my head, I will love Oklahoma and consider it home. I will always know that there’s a bass to be caught in a farm pond, a Bedlam debate to be had, and a simple sports culture that suits me just fine. The little things will stick with me.
Don’t worry Mom, I’ll miss you too.
Showcasing Red Dirt culture ~ authored and managed by contributors with connections to the great state of Oklahoma.