The Thunder celebrates 10 years of NBA in OKC
October 2018 marks 10 years since the Oklahoma City Thunder played its first game in Oklahoma City, the beginning of Oklahoma City’s status as a big-league city. But bringing the NBA to Oklahoma City is a story that started much earlier than the Thunder’s first game.
Oklahoma City’s serious aspirations to attract a major sporting franchise began in earnest with the passage of the Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) in 1993. One of the MAPS program’s capstone projects was the construction of an arena built to meet NBA and NHL specifications. Construction on that arena began in 1999, and the facility opened on June 8, 2002. In 2005, Oklahoma City had an opportunity to host a professional sports team when the New Orleans Hornets temporarily relocated to Oklahoma City following Hurricane Katrina. From 2005-2007, the Hornets played two seasons in Oklahoma City, enjoying its sell-out crowds and supportive fan base. The excitement in Oklahoma City provided overwhelming evidence to the NBA that a team could be successful here.
Fans were just as eager to see Oklahoma City have a team of their own. In March 2008, Oklahoma City residents approved a penny sales tax to further propel Oklahoma City to the big leagues. The temporary sales tax raised $121 million to pay for needed improvements to the arena and to construct a practice facility.
Later that year, the Oklahoma City Thunder started its inaugural season and played its first home game on Oct. 14, 2008. In a Q&A that appeared in that month’s issue of The POINT!, Thunder Vice President of Corporate Communications Dan Mahoney said, “Because Oklahoma City has experienced the NBA through the Hornets, the city realizes what a tremendous community asset the Thunder can be. The people of Oklahoma City have been incredibly welcoming. Our players, coaches and staff are as excited to be here as the city is to have us.”
The Thunder’s young team of now-household names got off to a shaky start, beginning their first season in Oklahoma City with a record of 3–29. However, the team saw quick improvement. They finished their first season with a record of 23–59, and during the 2009–10 season, the team more than doubled its previous season’s win total and earned a spot in the 2010 NBA Playoffs.
By 2011–12, the team’s momentum and notoriety had increased. During the 2012 playoffs, Oklahoma City beat the San Antonio Spurs to advance to the NBA Finals. While that series ended in a loss to the Miami Heat, it brought undeniable global attention to the team––and by extension, to Oklahoma City. That year, ESPN’s The Magazine named Oklahoma City as No. 1 in their ultimate franchise rankings based on the value the fan base placed on their team.
Since that time, the Thunder has continued to be among the strongest teams in the league, with eight playoff appearances in 10 years and players racking up individual rankings. Most notably, two Thunder players have achieved the title of NBA Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant in 2014 and Russell Westbrook in 2017. Westbrook will join Paul George and Stephen Adams with coach Billy Donovan as they kick off the 2018–19 season tonight, with the home opener taking place on Oct. 21 against the Sacramento Kings. View the team’s schedule.