The night the Oklahoma City Thunder lost for the final time this season to the Los Angeles Lakers I was sitting in a dark theatre in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, watching Lily Tomlin’s show. It was my five-year anniversary.
My husband and I shared our table with an elderly couple from Ohio. They were asking us about life in Oklahoma, and I was happy to tell them how much having the NBA has changed Oklahoma City.
There are the renovations to the Ford Center, of course, and the MAPS3 plan that followed. But what’s more exciting is the feeling that we no longer live in a city defined by disaster. We’re not that place where that bombing happened, or where those tornadoes are constantly robbing toothless meth addicts of their trailer parks. Or worse, that place that’s … well – what is there in Oklahoma? It reminds me of a story:
My first week of college I went to dinner with a group of my fellow freshmen. Sitting across the table from me was a cute blonde girl; as it always does the first several months of college, conversation turned to where everyone was from.
“I’m from L.A.,” the girl said, and mentioned that she had driven all the way from her home in southern California to our pristine college campus in North Carolina.
“That’s a hell of a drive,” I said to her.
“It was fun,” she said. “I got to see a lot of America. Where are you from?”
“I’m from Oklahoma,” I replied.
She made a face as if she’d smelled something awful – a dead body rotting in a pile of hot garbage, perhaps. “Ugh!” she cried. “Oklahoma! I don’t even know where that is! What is there in Oklahoma? I mean – what is that even like?”
“You tell me,” I said, trying to stay polite. “You spent probably six hours driving through it.”
She looked at me as if I’d accused her of shoplifting from Lane Bryant.
“What?” she cried. “I would never voluntarily go to Oklahoma!”
“You did,” I said. “You drove from L.A. to North Carolina. You took Interstate 40 the whole way, right?”
“Then yes, you were in Oklahoma for about five or six hours.”
“Well,” she said, “that’s how much it sucks. I didn’t even notice I was there.”
“What a rude thing to say,” I said. We ran into each other several more times throughout college, but never spoke.
By the time Lily Tomlin finished her set – she was amazing, and you should all go see her if you get a chance – the game was ending. The Thunder lost by a point. A point! It would’ve been heartbreaking, except that I got to watch, from a thousand miles away, my hometown crowd leap to its feet and give a thunderous ovation to its brand-new team that seemed to go on forever. The people who were there said they’d never heard anything like it.
Maybe someday I’ll meet that blonde girl again and I’ll be able to ask her if she’s had a chance to come back to Oklahoma, or to watch the Thunder in action. Maybe you will. If you do, tell her that we’re not nowhere. Tell her that, as rabid as Lakers fans can be, somehow I doubt Kobe and the Gang have ever heard, after losing a playoff game, a round of applause, of hoots and shouts and screams and teary-eyed cheers, as loud as what the Thunder got that night they were kept from playoff victory by a single, solitary point.