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.
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.
You know that Kobe Bryant jersey you got for Christmas? Try selling it a garage sale. The Carmelo Anthony bobblehead on your nightstand? Let’s find a shoebox for ‘Melo. Lebron James may be taking his talents to South Beach, but why don’t you take that poster of his to the trash can.
I’ve got a new role model for you and his name is Kevin Durant. He is the man you should be imitating. He is worthy of your admiration. He won’t disappoint you on or off the court. Let me tell you why you should be plastering your walls with images of Durant. We’ll start with Kevin Durant the basketball player.
You may not have heard this since its football season and your dad has a death grip on the remote, but just last week Durant led Team USA to its first World Championship in 16 years. Kobe wasn’t there. Neither was Dwyane Wade. At 21 years old, Durant was the clear-cut leader of the American squad. In the semifinals Durant dropped 33 points on the Lithuanians. Against Turkey in the championship, Durant drained seven 3-pointers on his way to 28 points and tournament MVP honors. Durant didn’t have to be there in Turkey, half a world away representing his country. He could have stayed home, rested, or taken a long vacation away from the game of basketball. After all, NBA training camps start in just two weeks. Most guys might want more of an offseason. Durant just wants to play ball.
If there’s a way to defend Durant, NBA coaches haven’t figured it out. Last season, Durant became the youngest player to ever lead the league in scoring with 30.1 points per game. Consistency? Durant has it. He recorded a streak of 29 straight games with 25 points or more, the second longest streak of its kind in NBA history. Durant never missed a game, and rarely missed a free throw. He shot a blistering 47% from the field and finished his third season as a pro with 25 double doubles. Each year, Durant’s numbers have gone up for points, rebounds, and assists. All this while facing the best defender on every team he faces. Most impressively, Durant propelled a young Thunder team to the playoffs and pushed the Lakers to six games in the first round. Watch closely kids and you won’t see Durant whining to referees or demanding more shots. He keeps his head down and his mouth shut. You see kids, it’s a style we simply don’t see out of our idols too often. It’s a style that may not earn you maximum fame. What it will get you is maximum respect.
Lebron James may have had a TV special dedicated to “the decision.” James may have had millions of people hanging on his every word, but his shameless self-promotion turned him into a laughing-stock. Trust me kids, trying to boost your own ego only makes you look petty, immature, and incredibly lame. Durant signed a contract extension with Oklahoma City right around the same time as the Lebron spectacle. Why didn’t you hear more about Durant’s signing you ask? Because Durant is the anti-Lebron. He announced his extension on Twitter. No press conference, no media, no gimmicks, just 140 characters. Truth is, Durant could have asked to opt out of his current deal in the fifth season. You might have a hard time believing someone with Durant’s skills and star power would want to stay in Oklahoma for years to come. It’s the truth. Durant wanted a deal done quickly and easily because as he puts it, “This is where I’m committed, this is where I want to be. I’m a loyal person.” Remember that word kids…loyalty. It’s becoming a thing of the past.
More than any accolade or accomplishment on the court, Durant understands the responsibility that comes with being a professional athlete. In January, Durant wasted no time in donating $100,000 to aid the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Thanks to Durant, a run down rec center in his home state of Maryland got a renovation and the kids in the neighborhood now have a safe place to play. Durant recently partnered with a record label to build a new music studio for high school students in the Washington D.C. area. Here in Oklahoma, Durant took a needy family on a grocery shopping spree to help a woman responsible for caring for her six nieces and nephews. He is heavily involved with the March of Dimes organization and is becoming known for giving out free pairs of shoes to his fans on Facebook and Twitter.
In other words, Durant doesn’t just play for Oklahoma City, he has a presence in Oklahoma City. A kid from Maryland, who went to school at Texas, now makes his home in Oklahoma. One of the brightest stars in the league plays in one of the smallest markets. But you see kids, it’s not about the size of the city. It’s not about the money, the recognition, or even about what anyone else might think. It’s about playing a game with passion, and being the same person on the court and off. What you see is what you get with Kevin Durant. I hope you see what I see. I see a whole lot of heart, I see a man worthy of your admiration, a man who deserves that space on your wall.
Showcasing Red Dirt culture ~ authored and managed by contributors with connections to the great state of Oklahoma.