“Hi,” said the usher at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “Where are you from?”
I told her Salt Lake.
“Welcome to our city. I hope you like it here.”
I’ve been told Utahns are extremely polite, maybe to a fault. But it doesn’t have anything over Oklahoma City in that department. After Sunday’s game I walked outside and a security guard asked me about how I got internet access inside the arena, then asked where I was from.
“Whatever happened to that great big ol’ fella that played for Utah,” he said.
“Rudy Gobert?” I said.
“No, not him.”
“Not him. No. The great big guy that just blocked shots.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s him. Boy he was a big ol’ fella. What’s he doing?”
“He still lives in Utah. He just published a book.”
"You don't say."
So it went.
A woman in the stands near my seat on press row asked where I was from. I told her I had never been to OKC before. Another person looked at my press credential and asked how I liked the town and said she hoped I enjoyed the stay. I told her I was impressed with how clean the city’s downtown seemed.
“The wind blew all the garbage out,” she said, self-deprecatingly.
After a few such interactions, I started trying to figure out whether market size and friendliness are directly connected. Probably, to some extent. At the same time, it didn’t seem to me that San Antonio, Portland, Milwaukee or other smaller markets are as anxious to please as OKC.
This is all anecdotal, but I told a friend whose daughter used to live in Oklahoma that it seemed as though everyone I met here was being paid by the travel bureau.
At the same time, like the Jazz crowd, Thunder fans are fiercely invested. In some NBA cities, the noise is mostly generated by the sound system. Not in OKC. They really do care.
My last observation about OKC is that everyone is on board. This mural isn’t the only one in town.
Images of the players are easy to find.
Which leads me to this conclusion: Lots of cities think they have the loudest fans, the best hospitality, the finest presentations. Giant cities tend to think they’re better because they’re bigger. That’s why the NBA succeeds. It has found a way to meet the coastal masses, while creating intense loyalty where there are fewer souls.
No wonder people get so psyched up for the postseason. It’s the one chance to say, “You think you’re better than me?” and sticking it to them.
But in Oklahoma, they might just say afterward, “Can I get you something to drink?”