"Wow," I say aloud to no one in particular. "These are great seats."
Half court. Less than 10 rows from the hardwood. I can see the swirls in the wood grain. I can make out every detail in the polished Oklahoma City logo on the floor.
I’d only been to a Thunder game once before. It was a preseason game against the Spurs in San Antonio last October, when Durant led the team to a 111-102 victory. I was ecstatic, but you wouldn’t have known then from my polite golf claps. It’s hard to be too vocal about your team when you’re stranded in a sea of pissed-off diehards in silver and black.
But tonight is going to be different. Tonight is my induction into the Loud City family.
For any doubters out there, the "Loud City" name is more than earned. As the bleachers slowly fill with a mass of Thunder blue, I wonder whether we’ll approach the sound levels ESPN described during the playoffs last season. A reporter with a decibel meter had proclaimed the arena the loudest in the NBA. I excitedly welcome the potential ear damage.
The lights go dark, the spotlights come on. It’s time.
I clap absentmindedly for the Dallas players, barely registering the boos from some fans around me. The wounds from last year’s conference finals have healed, but the scars are there. These people want revenge. I just want to watch my guys get a win. And then, there they are. Maynor. Collison. Harden. Perkins. Westbrook. With the cheers I’m belting, I worry I’ll lose my voice before we even tip off.
And finally, the man. Kevin Durant. The reason I’m a basketball fan at all. As a freshman at UT, I’d watched my classmate make gridiron-obsessed Texas fans care about that other sport for once. He’d been nothing like the basketball players I knew of – talented enough to spark Jordan and James comparisons, yet humble, soft spoken, and above all, hungry to be better. He had made me care. And by some stroke of luck, here he was years later leading my newborn team from nonexistence to become preseason polls’ favorites to win the West.
As he jogs onto the court, the arena erupts for their hero. An unconscious yell of "TEXAS!" bursts from my lips. The darling of Oklahoma City: a Longhorn.
Warm-ups. Tip off. It’s on.
As a football girl, I admittedly don’t know much about the game of basketball. At a football game, I’m watching for scheme and routes and blocking – all of the technique that fascinates me. At a basketball game, I’m more like a kid on the fourth of July. I don’t know or care how the bright lights and sounds in front of me are chemically crafted. I’m too mesmerized by the brilliant explosions even to wonder.
And as cliché as it sounds, watching the Thunder is like watching fireworks. Brilliant bursts of athleticism, teamwork, and talent, followed by explosions of sound from the ocean of fans.
My memories of most of the game are an intense and happy blur. My basketball mantra is, "Don’t worry about it yet." There will be enough time to make up for that falling Dirk shot that always magically finds net. There will be enough time to come back from that Jason Terry three. Don’t worry about it yet.
Some memories stand out. A beautiful arcing shot by Harden is followed by chants of "FEAR THE BEARD." The hilarious accidental tip by Brandon Haywood flies backwards into the Thunder basket. KD high-fives Westbrook after a nice assist. Westbrook slams a sweet breakaway and-one dunk. The crowd chants "RUSS-ELL! RUSS-ELL!" before he sinks the free throw, rooting for the emotional guard to finally find his groove. And he does – his follow-up 17-footer puts the Thunder ahead late.
Then comes Nowitzki’s three to tie it at 96 all. At that moment, I realize there isn’t enough time left not to worry about it "yet." My heart starts pounding as involuntary flashes of last year’s Western Conference Finals resurface. Leads blown. Agonizing heartbreak. I’m suddenly watching the game on fast-forward. Dirk is T’d up, Durant sinks the foul shot, Westbrook nails a jumper, Terry hits a three, Ibaka is fouled. It’s 101-98 and – clank, clank – Ibaka misses both. Dirk draws the coverage and Carter hits his go-ahead three. Dallas up one, with 1.4 seconds left.
Someone slams the breaks and life resumes normal speed. I realize I’m squeezing my own face like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. I can’t concentrate. I can’t think at all. The players get ready for their final chance. A catch-and-release is all there’s time for. I don’t even have the mental capacity to hope for anything specific. I’m just staring at 35, wordlessly willing him to do… something.
The whistle. The pass. KD jumps. Releases. The ball floats toward the hoop. It’s in. IT’S IN!
Explosion. If the game was fireworks, this is a nuke. The crowd is on fire. My hands automatically shoot upward, Horns raised. I’m jumping up and down, screaming like mad. "KEVIN DURANT! KEVIN DURANT!" is all I can articulate, but I can hardly hear my own voice over the collective roar. The players grab each other in excited hugs, and the fans follow suit. I high-five a stranger. I nearly tackle my sister in a bear hug. Blue and orange streamers rain from the ceiling. We won. We won.
My phone beeps with a text from my friend, a Mavs fan and fellow Texas Ex. "F’in Durant being the man." I can’t help but laugh as I send my reply.
"Blame his burnt orange blood."