JAZZ HORNETS BASKETBALL

Fans fill the Ford Center for the New Orleans' Hornets last home NBA basketball game of the regular season, against the Utah Jazz on Friday, April 14, 2006, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Ty Russell)

• Editor’s note: The Transcript staff is writing columns this week about the first live sporting events that shaped them.

Never did I truly believe Oklahoma City had the potential to field its own NBA franchise. Not until it actually happened.

Even then I was skeptical when I watched the franchise unveil its mascot and logo for the first time 12 years ago. The color scheme, the shield, the name. It just didn’t carry the weight of a Lakers or Celtics.

A few guys named Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook thankfully made you forget that rather quickly.

Before the Thunder rolled into my charming hometown, the NBA was just something you did in Dallas.

The occasional preseason game popped up at the then-named Ford Center when I was a kid, the same way the Thunder now visit Tulsa or Wichita for an exhibition. But if you wanted the real thing — regular season or playoff — your easiest path was Interstate 35 to American Airlines Center.

That trip always felt so long, but I loved basketball. The ride was well worth it to get a glimpse of Allen Iverson or Tim Duncan, the namesakes of the first two jerseys my mother ever gifted me.

We went to a Mavericks preseason game against the Sixers in the early 2000s. We were in nosebleed country. But I just wanted to see Iverson play once. I’d have to wait a few years when he visited Oklahoma City as a member of the Denver Nuggets. I didn't fully understanding as a 9-year-old that sometimes star players sit out preseason games.

It was still a thrill. I couldn’t wait to go back, soak in the buzz of a crowded arena, enjoy an overpriced personal pan pizza and hope to make it on the video board.

Granted, I wasn't a Mavericks fan or really even a Sixers fan. I grew up supporting San Antonio like most of my basketball-loving family, so we went to a few Spurs road games in Dallas.

I’ll never forget the dirty looks grown men gave me, a fourth grader, for wearing a Spurs jersey in their home arena. I probably deserved it. I did boo Dirk Nowitzki a lot.

There was a real energy to those games. College rivalries are great. Professional ones are even better, especially when the rivals are near the top of the league.

You couldn’t ask for much better than Duncan vs. Nowitzki.

I soon didn't need to go as far to watch the Spurs.

The NBA came to Oklahoma City under unfortunate circumstances. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, forcing the Hornets (now Pelicans) to temporarily relocate. Oklahoma stepped in to host the team for two seasons from 2005-07.

Those teams were never great. You wouldn’t realize that based on Oklahoma City’s unwavering loyalty to the displaced franchise.

A team that included rookie Chris Paul, Chris "The Birdman" Andersen, journeyman guard Speedy Claxton, young David West, Oklahoma State's Desmond Mason and future NBA champion J.R. Smith drew sellout Ford Center crowds.

The score wasn’t always pretty. Yet, Oklahoma City treated the Hornets like its own. It didn’t hurt the city was landing visits from the likes of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Yao Ming on a nightly basis.

We went to quite a few Hornets games. My mom knew how much it meant to me, and who knew if Oklahoma City would ever have this chance again.

My childhood bedroom was practically a San Antonio Spurs giftshop. But you couldn’t not like the Hornets back then.

My favorite memory from those days was actually a preseason game. It was the start of the Hornets’ second and final year in Oklahoma City. And upon arriving at our seats, one of our chairs was broken.

For a moment, it was a disappointment. We had 100-level seats behind the basket. I figured we’d be relocated higher up to an unsold pair of seats.

I was wrong.

A ticket sales representative made this aspiring sportswriter’s childhood. There was a surplus of space on media row, where the sales rep let us sit for the night.

Before he sat us down, he introduced us to legendary Oklahoma sportscaster Bob Barry Jr.

I was starstruck.

My grandfather was a Channel 4 loyalist. BBJ, as well as his father, was a big part of why I wanted to go into sports media. I couldn’t believe our stupid seats breaking led me to shaking his hand.

The NBA has truly spoiled me with some great memories. The Spurs’ championship runs occupy a majority of them. But those days when you had to work a little to get to an NBA game were good times.

Today's Oklahoma City youth don't know how good they have it.

Joe Buettner

405-366-3557

Follow me @ByJoeBuettner

jbuettner@normantranscript.com

Joe Buettner is a sports reporter for the Norman Transcript. You can contact him at (405) 366-3557 or jbuettner@normantranscript.com.

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