POSTED ON OCTOBER 24, 2012:
A Tulsan's guide to the Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder won the hearts of basketball fans worldwide last season during their NBA championship run. Behind a roster packed with some of the most productive and charismatic personalities the NBA has to offer, the Thunder has grown into one of Oklahoma's most sought after experiences. For Tulsans, just a short two-hour trek down the Turner Turnpike can lead to not only the home of one of basketball's most exciting franchises, but one of the most memorable getaways short of requiring a commercial airline flight.
For some, however, attending a professional sporting event can seem overwhelming. With so many questions about where to go, how to get there and what to do once there, maximizing the experience can be an intimidating task. The tentative can rest assured, however; I had the opportunity to attend the Thunder's first home preseason game of the year this past week, and I'm here to explain how it's done.
First thing's first: If you're going to attend a Thunder game in Oklahoma City, there is virtually no other acceptable option than to stay in the downtown area. Bricktown is, quite simply, where it's at. Within a square mile of the Thunder's home, Chesapeake Energy Arena, one can find nearly everything Oklahoma City has to offer -- and there's a lot.
Want to take a riverboat tour? You can.
Looking for live music? Check.
Itching to belt out a stunning rendition of Duran Duran's Hungry Like The Wolf? You may require therapy but, alas, it's a possibility.
Before all else, finding adequate quarters is a must. Luckily there are a number of hotels, all within a square mile of the arena. Several Hilton and Marriott properties are available along with several smaller, more affordable options. Those hoping for a paranormal experience might want to check out the Skirvin Hilton, 1 Park Ave. As legend has it, the ghosts of an old housekeeper and her baby have haunted the Skirvin since the 1930s, when both plummeted to their death from the 10th floor of the building. Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson and sports writing celeb Bill Simmons both claim to have experienced hauntings at the Skirvin. Consider yourself warned.
Once you're settled in downtown OKC, there are plenty of hot spots to hit before tipoff. Two of the best places to grab a beer and a sandwich before the game are Tapwerks, 121 E. Sheridan Ave., and the Bricktown Brewery, 1 N. Oklahoma Ave. Both offer a hearty selection of beers and other forms of pregame lubrication, as well as quick and satisfying dinner entrees. The ambience in both establishments is casual enough for fans to easily prepare for a night of NBA action.
If you're unwilling to venture from the conventional, chain restaurants like Zio's and The Melting Pot can be found. For those with absolutely no sense of adventure, Subway, Sonic and I-Hop are all close by.
Once game time approaches, it's time to head to Chesapeake Energy Arena (which will need a nickname at some point; I like "The Gas Chamber" best), 100 W. Reno Ave. If you've taken my excellent advice, you're most likely within a few blocks of the venue and need only allocate about 10 minutes of time for the short walk. Renegades who choose to stay outside of the city should allocate extra time for ongoing construction in the downtown area.
If you require it, parking isn't too difficult to find and is relatively affordable. In Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami, parking often includes interest rates and amortization schedules; in OKC it's around $10.
When you arrive at the doorstep of the arena, there may or may not be much going on. On the night I was in attendance, the most interesting person I came across was a grizzly middle-aged guy with an enormous parrot on his shoulder. Others have rubbed shoulders with the likes of Lil' Wayne, Rob Lowe and Broken Arrow native and SNL alum Bill Hader. Evidently, it's hit or miss.
Chesapeake Energy Arena is immaculate. From the inside out, the venue resembles more of a first-year arena than the 10-year veteran it is. Recent renovations have the building looking cleaner and fresher than ever. The seats are among the most comfortable in sports, and the concourses are wide enough to drive a truck through. Souvenirs are easy to find, and if the rug rats get restless there's even a Kids Zone you can drop them off at.
Throughout the venue there are numerous bistro-like restaurants and unique concession stands. Along with traditional hot dogs and soda, fans can also find gourmet candy and other treats rarely created without the help of an Oompa Loompa.
In general, it's difficult to find anything within Chesapeake Energy Arena to complain about. Outside of cash regularly falling from the catwalks, there isn't much more fans could ask for from an NBA arena.
The upper mezzanine level at Chesapeake is aptly dubbed "Love's Loud City." As soon as the pregame festivities begin, it feels as if "Loud City" would be a more appropriate name for the entire arena, rather than just the 5,000 or so seats near the top of the building. The deafening pops from the crowd resonate throughout the arena -- and possibly the entire city -- upon little more than a video image of Thunder star Kevin Durant being displayed on the scoreboard. Throughout the arena, the fans are engaged and involved, making it a wonder any visiting team has ever won in Oklahoma City.
During the game, the Thunder gives one of the most impressive fan experiences in sports. Along with all the traditional bits of fan interaction like the "kiss cam" and the Thunder Girls, timeouts and halftimes go a bit beyond the norm of basketball. At halftime of the game I attended, 10 fans were randomly selected to catapult themselves off trampolines in a slam-dunk contest. Though I found myself sidetracked with thoughts about the waiver the contestants must have had to sign, it was nevertheless a fantastic bit of entertainment.
Of course the highlight of the experience is the action on the floor. In just their third season, the Thunder managed to win the NBA's Western Conference and earned a trip to the NBA Finals. Though the Thunder fell short of winning an NBA title, there is little doubt they possess one of the most promising groups of young talent in the league. Behind young stars like Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden, the Thunder seem primed for a dynasty-like run atop the NBA. Fans should take note, however, that Harden is currently unsigned beyond the 2012-13 season, and this could be the final season to "fear the beard" in OKC.
After the final buzzer, the party continues in Bricktown. With tons of hotspots scattered throughout, it's virtually impossible to not find something of interest. Bricktown is home to martini lounges, cigar bars, dueling pianos, sports bars, karaoke clubs and more. Thunder
players themselves have been known to frequent some of the key spots within Bricktown, so who knows--you may find yourself trading grooming tips with James Harden.
More than just watching another basketball game, the Thunder experience is an event that stretches beyond the realm of spectator sports. Hopefully, when morning rolls around and you awaken within the confines of your carefully chosen, lavish 4-star hotel room, you will have experienced the Oklahoma City Thunder to its fullest.
With any luck, you might find yourself able to say you legitimately "Thundered up."
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