I never liked Oklahoma. Oklahoma is the reason Kansas is so far from Texas. I’ve wasted what seems like years of my life stuck in traffic on I-35 trying to get from one big, beautiful state to another. Is there a law that requires constant, statewide construction?
Oklahoma is also entirely too proud of Toby Keith, and you can tell from the steady stream of his songs on every radio station in the state. For a long time, Oklahoma’s only redeeming factors were the plentiful Braums locations lining the interstate. Every exit has a Braums. And Braums, by the way, was founded by University of Kansas graduate Bill Braum.
I also never really cared for the NBA. Sure, I paid attention to which teams drafted my favorite players out of KU. And when Paul Pierce was playing in the finals, I wore green to the sports bar. Chris Suellentrop, in Grantland’s Hard Times in the Paris of the Plains, perfectly described Kansas City’s attitude toward the pros: “The NBA is more like the Senior PGA Tour, a place to watch aging, faded greats who are no longer on the big stage. (I watched the NBA Finals with at least one eye keeping track of where Mario Chalmers was, on or off the court, at all times.).”
But now the Oklahoma City Thunder have stolen my heart, and I’m not the only one.
After a lifetime of ignoring the NBA, Kansans are taking a new interest in the pro version of their favorite sport. It’s a natural choice for a Kansas fan. They’re the closest team to Kansas City (I know I’m not the only one who sometimes hears the fans at Chesapeake Arena chanting “O-K-C” and wishes they were chanting “Go K-C” in the Sprint Center). They have two of my favorite Jayhawks on the roster — Nick Collison and Cole Aldrich.
And they’re in the NBA Finals, a fact that’s pushed many of us from casual observers to psycho fans. Suddenly, all of my college classmates (with the notable exception of Andrew Hammond, who’s caught up on the “stole the team” narrative) are cheering for Oklahoma City.
If you love (but sometimes hate) Kansas basketball, you had to love (and hate) Game 2: A slow start, a furious comeback in the fourth quarter, a controversial call, and a close loss. I’ve seen that game before. If you love (but sometimes hate) Oklahoma City basketball, you’re not ready to talk about Game 3 just yet.
Here is what I know about Midwesterners: They love sports. All a Kansan (or an Oklahoman or even a Missourian) really wants is to adore a team to the point of mental illness. They want to live and die with a team. They want to care the most.
You’ve read How it feels to be a Jayhawk, right? That post struck a chord for a reason: Midwesterners are pretty batshit about their teams. And don’t tell me people in square states are so passionate about the team because there’s nothing else to do there. When you have a truly exciting team, what other kind of entertainment do you need? All a city needs to be livable is a good team and a great sports bar. Everything else is for tourists.
Oklahoma City has heart. The Thunder play hungry, and they play as a team. It’s not just the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook show. My coworker was giving me a hard time about Nick Collison not being an important part of the team. Then this happened in Game 1.
Oklahoma City fans love their team in a way most NBA fan bases can’t understand. They wear their giveaway T-shirts, stand throughout the game, and they get loud. It reminds me of Allen Fieldhouse, the happiest place on earth and probably the loudest college basketball arena in the country.
In March, all I wanted was to see a depleted Kansas team make the Sweet 16, and I got a national championship berth. My wish for the Thunder was to beat the Lakers, and now here they are in the finals.
The last few months have cemented my philosophy: If you love a team with everything you have, and you believe in it without fail, amazing things will happen. For me, unwavering faith — in both my team and my superstitious rituals — is the truest expression of fandom. I’m more than a little bit crazy, but I can’t help it — I’m a Jayhawk. And now I’m a Thunder disciple with the same unhealthy zeal that made me the loony toon I am today.
Oh, and Mario Chalmers is in the NBA Finals too. So that’s cool.