Oklahoma City’s “college market” just keeps getting it right

The Oklahoma City Thunder have many things to be grateful for, especially while observing other teams around the league. In what I like to call OKC’s “second generation,” Sam Presti seemed to hit the jackpot once again as he did in the late 2000s with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden.

This time he’s done it with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams, and Josh Giddey — not to mention the second pick of the 2022 NBA Draft, Chet Holmgren.

But weirdly, unlike the aura I’ve observed in my brief time around other franchises, the Thunder may be the youngest team in NBA history, but they’ve developed a sense of pride in the team they play for already.

Oklahoma City has gotten slack for not feeling like a true “big league city” around the league but is that its most significant strength?

The Thunder have a lot of continuity. Thunder fans treat the players like local hometown heroes. However, they’re essentially just paid employees, and while that mentality has bit OKC in the butt a few times (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Paul George), who left Thunder fans heartbroken after their departure, it serves as a sense of real pride for the players in the city they play for.

That was put on full display during All-Star weekend when SGA sported a multi-colored leather biker jacket worth over $6,000 that was Oklahoma City Thunder-themed, with “Thunder” on the front and the team logo on the back.

“It’s funny because I’ve had it for a few years now,” Gilgeous-Alexander told The Oklahoman’s Joe Mussatto in an interview, “but I told myself that I wasn’t going to wear it until the All-Star Game.

“I wanted to represent the city here at All-Star Weekend, and I thought that was the perfect way.”

How often do you see a player and, better yet, a fashion icon implement their team’s name or logo into their swag? The answer is seldom. Other general managers say they look for high-character players to add to their team, but Presti legitimately does so, and that’s been displayed with everyone on OKC’s roster, including with their young star, SGA.

Despite the average age of the Thunder (23.1 years), the family-like relationship the team shares remind me of a college team. If you followed SGA and J Dub’s All-Star weekend journey, you clearly saw how close they are from hanging out in their free time to showing up to each other’s events while wearing the other’s jersey.

Gilgeous-Alexander said Williams is his “little bro,” and that’s the vibe the budding Thunder duo gives off.

Once again, Presti has constructed a team built for success — and he’s still working on it while waiting for the second pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, Chet Holmgren, to make his Thunder debut.

OKC is 28-29, shattering various sportsbook’s preseason predictions (Bleacher Report predicted 18 wins) at the break, and that’s because of the improvement from Shai, plus getting major contributions from Giddey and rookies Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams, and honestly, the rest of the team.

This “college city” seems to keep getting it right because, after just two lackluster seasons, they’re back playing a competitive brand of basketball.

About Author

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.

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