When I wrote some impressions following my experience at Game 1 in Oklahoma City, I never imagined that it would ignite such vitriol from Thunder fans. Frankly, I never thought they would see it. As it turns out, they did. And they were not amused. I have received a remarkable number of messages, mostly via twitter. Thanks to The Lost Ogle I have also received a few colorful emails at work. It seems that GrizzGrind even made the local news in Oklahoma City. It must have been a pretty slow news day.
While most of the OKC fans that responded actually agreed with many of my observations (despite telling me I am an idiot), there were a few criticisms that were consistent throughout the responses:
First, I was told that my subdued pre-game experience was an anomaly because the game started at noon on a Sunday. Second, I was told that OKC fans actually have basketball IQ (though nobody claimed it was high). Third, I was told that the decision to sit upstairs affected my experience and that I would not have questioned the authenticity of the crowd noise if I sat in the lower-level. Lastly, they were kind enough to explain that opposing fans are regularly put on the big screen and booed by the home crowd.
I had no intention of writing another article on the subject, but when I found out that Memphis fans Wayne and Jen Randall attended Game 2 on Tuesday, I thought it was a good opportunity to find out whether my experience was an aberration. I asked Wayne to tell me about his experience on Tuesday. As luck would have it, he was also at Game 1 on Sunday and was able to offer some comparisons.
Here is a summary of what he had to say:
(GG) I understand you and your wife were able to make the trip to OKC for the game on Tuesday? Were you at Game 1 as well?
(WR) Yeah. We actually left Saturday morning and spent a few days there. We went to Bricktown after Game 1 on Sunday and ran into Conley and Quincy and got a picture with them.
(GG) I wrote about my experience at Game 1 on Sunday and got some pretty enthusiastic responses from the Thunder fans. When I said I was underwhelmed by the activity around the arena before the game, OKC fans were quick to remind me that it was a Sunday morning and that Tuesday night would be different. Tell me about your experience pre-game in Downtown OKC.
(WR) It was a very different atmosphere compared to Sunday. Sunday was pretty quiet, which is what you would expect on a Sunday morning. On Tuesday we went to see Iron Man 3 at the theater in Bricktown. Even before the 3:45 movie there were people around the area. By the time we got out around 6:15 there were Thunder fans everywhere. We went over to a bar in Bricktown and had a drink, and it was packed.
(GG) What time did you get to the arena? What was the crowd like at the arena when you got there?
(WR) We got into the arena around 7:30, and it was pretty empty, which you would expect an hour before the game. We had access to the courtside lounge, and it was pretty crowded, even though the rest of the arena was not.
(GG) Where were you sitting? Any other Grizzlies fans nearby?
(WR) Tuesday we had tickets courtside, about three rows from the floor. There were some Grizzlies fans around us on Sunday but not on Tuesday. There was still a Grizzlies contingent around, just not as many as Sunday and not as close to us.
(GG) How did the fans in your section treat you?
(WR) As a general matter, I’ve never met more respectful fans than I did in Oklahoma City. I have been to games in a few other cities and they were the nicest I’ve been around. We had several come up to us and wish us well and tell us they hope we enjoy our visit. When we took the lead late in the game I had someone behind me get confrontational about me holding my towel up, but it is no different than we would react to opposing fans if we were about to lose an important game. After the game, a couple of folks came up and apologized for the guy acting that way. I like to think it is the same way we generally treat fans that come to Memphis, even if we give them a hard time during the game.
(GG) What was your impression of the “basketball IQ” of the fans around you in OKC? Were they talking about the game in the same way you hear people talk in FedEx Forum?
(WR) A few of people at Game 1 were talkative and seemed fairly knowledgeable. The only thing I would say is that they didn’t seem to know what constitutes a foul or know the NBA rules. For Game 2 we sat around some folks at floor level who are probably a little more hardcore – given the price of the seats – and they seemed to know the game.
(GG) One of the things I wrote about that seems to have touched a nerve was that I thought the crowd noise in OKC is artificially created. Specifically, I took issue with the team distributing artificial noise makers to the entire crowd. Did they do that again on Tuesday? What was your impression of the crowd noise?
(WR) They did give away plastic clappers to everyone. I may not be a good person to ask about that though, because I am a Mississippi State fan and we bring our cowbells to the game. It gets really loud in there, but Tuesday was louder than Sunday.
(GG) Thunder fans got defensive about was my impression that they receive heavy instruction about how/when to cheer and that between those instructions the arena gets pretty quiet. What was your impression about that?
(WR) They are very organized and when they are asked to get loud they do. I did notice that it tended to get pretty quiet between cheers. It was more noticeable for Game 1 than Game 2 though. There was more energy Tuesday.
(GG) Did they put a Memphis fan up on the big screen during Game 2?
(WR) Before the game they put people up on the screen to pressure them into putting on the shirts that are on every seat. On Tuesday they tried to get a woman wearing a Memphis shirt to put on their “Rise Together” shirt and gave her a hard time when she didn’t, but she stood strong. During the game on Tuesday they also put a Memphis fan on the screen and hit him in the face with a pie at one point the way Grizz does sometimes. I didn’t see anything like that during the game Sunday.
(GG) Did the crowd stick around until the final buzzer? What was the atmosphere like after the game?
(WR) The crowd stuck around until we took a five point lead in the last minute, and then it started to clear out. You could hear a pin drop in that arena after the game ended. Oddly, it was after the Thunder beat us in Game 1 that a woman outside the arena booed me while we were walking to Bricktown. After Game 2 it was pretty subdued.
(GG) Have you been to other opposing arenas? How would you compare “The Peake” to other places?
(WR) I’ve been to Grizzlies road games in Minneapolis, Miami, Orlando and LA (Clippers). Honestly, as far as the area around the stadium, I liked Oklahoma City best. The arena itself is nice, but it isn’t as nice as LA or Miami. I would say it is comparable to FedEx Forum in terms of layout, etc. but I did miss having a stat board. They do have TVs in the bathrooms, which is a nice touch.
(GG) Is there anything else that you would like to say about your experience in Oklahoma City?
(WR) I had a great time and would not hesitate to go back. There was a lot to do in the general area. Over all it was a good experience.
(GG) Are you a Grizzlies season ticket holder? How many Grizzlies home games do you attend in a typical season?
(WR) We have season tickets in Section 104 and make it to most of the home games.
(GG) What is your prediction for the rest of this series?
(WR) They are fully capable of winning one here. I hope they don’t, but this thing could go 7. It will depend on how these next two games go. If we win the next two, it is over in 6. If we lose one, it will go 7.
There you have it. I think it is great that #GrizzNation is traveling into hostile territory to put on for their city and encourage you all to do it at least once. I couldn’t in good faith suggest that you do it for Game 5 in OKC though. That drive is too brutal for just one game.
Looking back at my piece from Monday I stand 100% behind what I wrote. Was some of my experience due to the early start time on Sunday? Of course – and I acknowledged that throughout the original story. Were some of my impressions accurate regardless of what day or the game was played? Yep.
I think the backlash I received only confirmed what I believe about Thunder fans sense of entitlement. Oklahoma City fans are not used to criticism and many of them had a hard time with it. As far as the national media is concerned, everything Sam Presti touches turns to gold and Kevin Durant is the most affable and likable star in the league – if not in all of professional sports. They may be right.
Thunder fans were quick to point out that they suffered their own 23-win season the first year the team was in Oklahoma City. Fair enough. Once again, however, Thunder fans ignore the context surrounding that fact. In 2008-2009 the team was brand new to the city and had an obvious superstar-in-the-making in Durant. While it is never fun to watch your team lose 59 games it hardly qualifies as a hardship when the future was obviously very bright.
What I think got lost in the shuffle was that I found Oklahoma City and the Thunder fans to be delightful and I didn’t intend to suggest otherwise. I merely pointed out some things that are done differently than we do them in Memphis. People should keep in mind that two things can be different without needing to declare one “good” and the other “bad.” They are just different. As are the two cities, despite their relatively similar sizes.
To our friends in Oklahoma who may be reading this, I again extend an open invitation for you to come to Memphis for Game 3 (Saturday) or Game 4 (Monday) to check out our game experience. If you make the trip, let me know. I will happily direct you to the best barbeque or meet you downtown for a beer before the game. Also, as a public service, I would direct you to the “I Love Memphis” blog, which is a great guide for people visiting Memphis for a weekend. Oh! Also! Watch out for the traffic on I-40 in Arkansas around mile marker 193. It is a mess.
Grind on, Memphis