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Dear OKC Thunder Fans:

You are not like everyone else, and now is not the time to act like you are.

When Russ was at the free throw line in 2009, 0-for from the field and looking like everything but an NBA point guard, you started chanting his name. Who would cheer for a guy putting up those kinds of numbers?

What kind of fan base shows up at three in the morning after a playoff road trip when the team comes back with a pair of losses?

If it meant you were the only stadium in the league doing it in the year 2019, who would pray before every game for safety in the game on the court and unity in the world off of it?

You did. You do. You will.

Since the Thunder arrived in OKC, you have gotten to watch close to 500 games on one of thirty NBA courts in the entire world. Wearing shades of blue, white, or the occasional sunset orange – you have watched draft picks become stars, stars become champions, and champions become legends. You watched one of the youngest postseason teams in the history of the NBA tear through Pop’s Spurs and Kobe’s Lakers, only halted by a super team made up of Lebron James, one of the greatest to ever play the game, and Dwyane Wade, a not-so-side-kick who is top 5 in the history of the league at his position. Back then the Thunder were just a group of kids, their future as bright as sunset orange.

You watched those kids grow up. You were there for what seemed like every minute of it. Sellout after sellout, trip after trip to the airport. You ate in the restaurants they opened up around town, you helped their families feel comfortable and find success in a community that was growing alongside them. You supported them when they struggled and celebrated them when they succeeded. And boy did they succeed.

Russell Westbrook. Paul George. James Harden. Kevin Durant. Carmelo Anthony. Kendrick Perkins. Steven Adams. Serge Ibaka. Nick Collison.

You have watched 4 different scoring champions play basketball for your city. 3 different (likely) eventual MVPs. A Finals MVP. NBA Champions. Future first-ballot Hall of Famers. You retired the jersey of a man whose reputation and demeanor are a complete mirror image of your city: hard-working, not flashy, and almost entirely under-appreciated by those outside of Oklahoma.

They helped put OKC on the map. It was the least they could do to give back for the unconditional embrace you gave them.

But now, Thunder fans, the slate is clean. In the 11 years of its existence, your team has a Western Conference Championship, Five Northwest Division Titles, 9 trips to the playoffs, and 10 winning seasons. And yet here you are, frustrated at this year’s team, who has shown flashes of what they can be but have never really been able to turn that flash into a fire. Fans and analysts will point to all kinds of things to fix the team in the days leading up to their home stand in Oklahoma City. Better shooting, more active defense, more offensive movement. They are all great points, and certainly things that people who get paid millions of dollars to see will notice and make adjustments accordingly.

For you, though, as fans. There is only one way that you can provide a spark for this team. More likely than not, it’s the only one that this team really needs. The Oklahoma City Thunder needs you to believe in them. To show up on Friday night and remind the players on both teams and the rest of the NBA why OKC is the toughest place to play in the league unless you’re wearing white. To support them in their inevitable stretches of struggle and to celebrate them until they find success. To do exactly what you have done for the last 11 years to help get them to the point they are at now.

If you had quit on Russ that day at the free throw line, he might not have ever been the NBA MVP, and almost certainly wouldn’t have stayed to accomplish that in Oklahoma City.

There is nothing like watching an old playoff clip on Youtube – the one that always comes to mind for me is the and-1 Russ had against the Lakers in 2012. Phil Jackson had to wear earbuds that entire series in OKC because he was having a hard time falling asleep after games because of the ringing in his ears. You helped win that series because there was absolutely no way to make in-game adjustments in that kind of atmosphere. And you can help win this one, too.

That Russell Westbrook was not better than this one in 2019, and that Thunder team was hardly more fun to watch than this one at their best. What’s changed in the 7 years since that run is you. Your hopes for the Thunder have turned into expectations, a perspective that has dragged you down to the level that other fanbases across sports can’t escape from. Ask a Knicks fan how much they love they NBA, they can’t seem to muster any trace of joy for their team anymore.

At the end of the year, only one team gets to raise the trophy. Trust me, the guys on the court actually want that thing a lot more than any of us do. We have every right to cheer for it, to hope for it, and to hold our players accountable to the level we know they can perform at. But where’s the fun in a comeback if you’re already meme’ing our players in the second quarter? How can you root for the same guy you just trashed, the same coach you just called for to be canned?

I’m not saying that the team is playing great and we should pretend that everything is perfect. We are down 0-2 to an injured Portland team that just about everyone in the league picked us to win in 5 or 6. That sucks. But there is certainly a way to go about it – the same way we went about it when we just felt lucky to be able to have a part in it all. The same way that brought us back when we were down 0-2 to Pop’s Spurs, down 7 with 50 seconds left against the Clippers, down 26 last Spring against the Utah Jazz. This Thunder team needs more of your support, not less of it.

And then, at the end of the season, once you’ve hoped and hurt until the last whistle, bring your critiques then. I guarantee you, if it’s anything like how it felt in the early years, you won’t want to trade away the team and rebuild the franchise anymore. You may even be happy, on some level, to have been able to take part in the fight. To have been the one who believed when everyone else counted us out.

So what will it be, OKC? There are plenty of fans cheering against the Thunder. Most of them have their team’s season already finished – as they are at this time just about every other year – and need something to root against so they don’t feel bad not having anything to root for. But you don’t need that like they do. You have an NBA playoff team. You have a city. You have 2 of the best players on the planet lacing up with the rest of the Thunder, risking their bodies to win a game because playing for you means that much to them.

And you have 19,000 seats to fill to help them do it. How much do they mean to you?

See you Friday.

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Alex Burney