Thunderstruck: OKC goes mad for pro basketball

By Tim Talley

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, June 10 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

"We tried to get her to bed early this week, with the camp going, so she could get some rest," said Melton, of Choctaw. "But with the games going on, we let her sleep on the couch, but she didn't go to sleep."

When point guard Eric Maynor showed up for a visit, camp coaches blew their whistles and the children yelled in unison "Go Thunder!"

Bud Carter, 93, has come to know the players well. He works for Huntleigh USA, which provides security screening for NBA players flying through Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport.

"Those guys are really my boys. I screen them all the time," Carter said. "They're a great bunch of young men."

Thunder pride is felt statewide, said Tulsa resident Sarah Neal, 34.

"There's really a great kind of community feel. Go to any sports bar showing the game. You're sitting with strangers and you're high-fiving each other, buying each other drinks. It's a great time for our state," she said.

At Bedlam Sports in Tulsa, co-owner Steve McCormick has had to make room for all the Thunder gear.

"People feel like they're on the team, and 'I've got to get in there and get the stuff,'" he said.

Oklahoma City resident Roberto Velez, 24, is one of those fans. Clad in a blue T-shirt that said "We're One," Velez waited for a flight at the Phoenix airport and explained why — even though he's originally from Miami — he easily changed allegiances.

"It's been these young players prove they could beat the legends from championship teams like the Lakers, the Spurs and the Mavericks," Velez said. "Such a brand-new team deserves at least one ring."

Cornett and other city officials began laying the foundation to attract a NBA franchise after Hurricane Katrina, playing host to the New Orleans Hornets for two years. It was enough for some Oklahoma sports fans to begin pushing the Sooners' seven national football championships and Oklahoma State's 34 national wrestling titles to the back of their minds.

"It just started out with the Hornets, and then getting a team of our own has been a dream come true," said Eric Loftis, a season-ticket holder who lives in Norman. "We just forgot about football and everything else. It's just our team, the only team we've ever had."

Associated Press writers Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma City, Sean Murphy in Phoenix and Justin Juozapavicius in Tulsa contributed to this report.

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