By Chet Kennedy
“Man, it’s hot as balls out here!” Exclaimed a sweatier than usual Daniel Stober, jockeying for position against the chain link fence separating the private hangar from the 500 hundred crazy animals challenging the sweltering heat, all hoping to welcome or merely catch a glimpse of a certain new acquisition. “I can’t believe it, Paul freakin’ George!”. It was a consensual feeling amongst the throngs of fans. A jubilant mix of hope, anticipation and body fluids, coming to a head as Clay Bennett’s private plane touched down around 2:30 PM, nearly two and a half hours after most of the mob had formed. About 10 days had passed since the surprise trade sent shockwaves around the globe, relocating our small market to the center of the NBA universe. Heat be damned, there were more exciting and fantastic things to think about, Paul George is in Oklahoma.
After rolling out the red carpet in what was a mix between a block party and C-Span, Thunder Nation finally had a glimpse of what we’d known all week but still couldn’t quite wrap our heads around, a number 13 Thunder jersey with an all-star underneath. Excitement was tempered going into the offseason with cap space tight and youth looking to be developed, seemingly in lieu of the Blake Griffin’s of the world or other free agent splashes. There was a level of resignation forming, acceptance almost of the slow process back to contender status in front of us. Then just like that, BANG!
There aren’t many front office members in professional sports like Sam Presti. Between being a Rhode’s Scholar nominee, playing drums/ producing three CD’s for charity and his progressive management style (including handing out pictures of TV’s MacGyver to inspire a “think outside the box” mentality for the current off-season), No stone, or risk for that matter, is to be left unturned. “To me the risk in this decision would be not making it.” Presti stated during his typical droll, multi syllabic presser. He’s right. No matter how many sweaty Thunder minions show up on the tarmacs, we just aren’t the type of place that has a lot of success with free agents. “Facts is facts” as we say on the plains. Patrick Patterson, Nenad Kristic and the suave renegade Derek Fisher are the crown jewels of the OKC free agent list. Not exactly Pat Riley-esque. Attempts at the Pau Gasol’s and Joe Johnson’s were valiant but failed to come to fruition and losing the Front Runner last off-season seemed to banish OKC into playoff mediocrity, but it’s moments like the past couple weeks that show a team’s true intentions. Presti has a pulse on the fan base that is often a rare thing in front offices. Instead of settling for a perennial 4/5/6 playoff slot every season and forgoing rings (a common misconception from the national media regarding Presti’s strategy) he pulled the trigger and seemingly, Nerd Jesus resurrected our hopes of a Bricktown Parade once more. Whether it’s trading for a superstar or simply making the 21st overall selection, every decision is played close to the vest, with precision, preparation and poise.
Amidst all the airport festivities and as we eagerly awaited our championship hopes to step off the jet, a black SUV strolled onto the tarmac and a familiar stylish ginger stepped out to a wall of boisterous noise. Chants of “PRESTI” echoed loudly, pinging off hangars, planes and every drenched, starry-eyed fan. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him but he heard every chant, a thank you of sorts for once again making the impossible, possible in Oklahoma. “I believe in Oklahoma City.” the adopted son said in a rare poignant and dare I say emotional moment at the welcome press conference. After 10 years of unimaginable success, global attention, and just plain fun, the feeling is mutual Mr. Presti. What’s up those sleeves next is anyone’s guess.