A surprisingly high percentage of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 14,000 season tickets are sold to Tulsa County residents. Approximately 1,000 of those tickets are purchased by Tulsans.
With the 1 a.m. Saturday report that Paul George had been successfully recruited to the Los Angeles Clippers by Kawhi Leonard, and as Russell Westbrook and his huge salary reportedly may be on the brink of being shipped elsewhere, and as Steven Adams also may wind up being a trade piece, I wonder how Tulsa-based Thunder ticket customers feel now about their 2019-20 investment.
Or all Thunder ticket customers, for that matter.
I have a longtime Tulsa friend who has been a season-ticket holder since 2010. I don’t have to wonder how he feels about what happened with George and could happen with Westbrook. I called the guy, who was more than willing to talk but didn’t want his name published.
To preserve his anonymity, he’ll be referred to as Thunder Fan.
“Game 6 nine years ago, when the Lakers closed out the Thunder in the playoffs — I was there,” Thunder Fan recalled. “It was an incredible game and the atmosphere in the arena was amazing.
“I knew that night that something special was coming. The next day, I got season tickets (for 2010-11). I’ve had tickets every year since.”
For the 2019-20 season, Thunder Fan weeks ago spent $25,000 for three pairs of tickets. His expectation was reasonable — that he would watch OKC total about 50 wins and contend for one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference playoffs.
Instead, for the first time, he and other Thunder fans could be witnesses to a full-fledged rebuilding process.
“It’s hard to take when the ticket holders are more committed to the team than the players are,” Thunder Fan said. “They can go into (Sam) Presti’s office and request a trade, and three days later they’re gone.
“Kawhi Leonard can call Paul George, who is under contract, and say, ‘Hey, come play with me in Los Angeles,’ and that’s not tampering? Kevin Durant did this to us three years ago, and we were left empty-handed. This time, we at least got something in return.”
Presti had no choice but to make the deal. Only one year after George announced during a party his multi-year commitment to OKC, he requested a trade to the Clippers. If Presti refused to accommodate George, the Thunder probably would have a disgruntled All-Star. The Thunder might not get 100% of what George can or should be.
In return, Oklahoma City receives a fascinating package that includes five first-round draft picks, along with a nice second-year point guard (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) and veteran forward Danilo Gallinari.
On Saturday, I discussed the Thunder-Clippers transaction with Thunder Fan, with my brother, with Pat Jones and with several additional friends. Each one mentioned that the Thunder deal ultimately might resemble the Dallas Cowboys’ 1989 trade of Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings.
In exchange for Walker, Dallas received five players and eight draft picks. Two of the picks were used on difference-makers like Emmitt Smith and Darren Woodson. Others were used as commodities in subsequent deals.
The Walker trade launched a movement that resulted in three Cowboys championships. There likely won’t be that type of end result for the Thunder, but Presti does have the flexibility now to get his payroll in order and draft or acquire new stars.
In the meantime, the 2019-20 season could be relatively bleak. Depending on what happens with Westbrook during the next several days, OKC could go from having two All-Stars to having none.
NBA salaries have reached a level of undeniable insanity. In 2019-20, Westbrook is scheduled to make $38.2 million (or $17.5 million more than Tom Brady), while George will make $33 million ($10 million more than Aaron Donald) and Adams $25.8 million ($3 million more than Drew Brees).
With Westbrook, George and Adams together on the OKC roster, there were two first-round playoff eliminations.
This year’s playoff appearance was OKC’s ninth in 10 years. Oklahoma’s NBA experience has been an anomaly — that a first-time professional-sports market would be blessed with such a consistent winner. Those first few years were fantastic.
Not only did Oklahoma City have a really good NBA team, but also one of the younger rosters in the league. While other small NBA markets like Sacramento and Orlando were to be pitied because of their basketball futility, the Thunder was a force that developed a global following.
When the Thunder arrived in 2008, Durant was a second-year superstar. Westbrook and Serge Ibaka were rookies. In 2009, James Harden was drafted. In 2009-10, the Thunder had 50 victories.
In 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2016, OKC rolled to the Western Conference semifinals. In 2012, there was a surge to the Finals and a five-game setback against LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
On the shock meter, Durant’s 2016 move to Golden State was a 100. Bob Stoops’ retirement was a 90. Durant going to Brooklyn last week was a 5.
It was interesting, but the only truly shocking move Durant could make now would be a return to Oklahoma.
For the fourth consecutive offseason, big news has emanated from Thunder headquarters.
In 2016, after OKC had been minutes away from another Finals run, Durant bolted and Victor Oladipo was acquired.
In 2017, as Westbrook signed a long-term contract and George and Carmelo Anthony moved to Oklahoma.
In 2018, George signed a contract to stay in Oklahoma.
On Saturday, Tulsa’s Thunder Fan tried to make sense of the George flight to Los Angeles and reports that Westbrook — Mr. Thunder — soon may be traded.
Thunder Fan’s only certainty is this: While he’s got a $25,000 collection of Thunder tickets, he has no clue what the Thunder roster might look like. Thunder Fan can’t possibly know whether he’ll be supporting a 48-win team or a 28-win team at the front end of an extensive rebuilding.
Durant-Golden State redefined for me what qualifies as “shocking.” I didn’t fall out of my chair when the George story broke, but I’m not the one who spent 25 grand on Thunder tickets.