All in on Sam Presti & the Thunder season

Presti screen
OKC Thunder general manager Sam Presti speaks to the media in the weeks leading up to the 2022-23 season.

As my friend and debate partner in all things OKC Thunder, Steve Buck has often accused me of being anti-Sam Presti.

It’s an accusation that I loudly protest even as I have questioned the Thunder’s apparent philosophy of losing games on purpose, otherwise known as tanking. Teams tank because losing positions them for better draft position as they work to build their roster.

As my friends at church would say, “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

Steve has described it to me as a “player development” philosophy rather than actual tanking, which the NBA frowns upon. In 2018, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for admitting on the Dan Patrick Show that the Mavs lost games on purpose. 

In comments made on the Dan Patrick Show,, Cuban said that “once we were eliminated from the playoffs, we did everything possible to lose games.”

I’ve never heard Sam Presti say anything about losing on purpose. But I have heard him discuss “commitment to the process” and “not taking shortcuts.”

We saw how that played out as the Thunder went 24-58 in 2021-22, often keeping key players with minor ailments on the injury list and out of the lineup for long stretches. The team even cut a player late in the season who was playing above expectations, which threatened the team’s commitment to ‘The ProcessTM”

Frustration mounts for me when it’s apparent the Thunder are ‘exploring the roster’ with no interest in winning the game night after night. That’s what we’ve seen the last couple of years.

So, what have we heard from Presti leading up to the Oct. 19 season opener against the Timberwolves? Here are some sample comments from the Thunder GM over the past few weeks.

“What we’re looking for is overall improvement over a long period of time,” Presti said in a media appearance. “That’s not the most sexy, exciting thing that I could say to you.

“I’m not trying to mislead anybody, but it would be easier to try to find something that’s more catchy or exciting. But we just want a long-term, overall improvement. That doesn’t mean each season has to go the same way.”

As I did in a post a year ago, I’m asking the Thunder to play to win every game. I’m sure neither the franchise nor its sponsors enjoyed the nights last season when the Paycom Center was less than half full. 

It’s pretty apparent to me that people are not going to commit time or money to a team they perceive as not trying to win, even if there is a long (emphasize “long”) term goal of capturing the next unicorn in the draft.

My perception is that the fans come last in this tanking or “player development” scenario that’s played out over the past couple of years.

That’s a position that my friend Steve takes issue with.

“Strongly disagree on your last point,” he told me this week. “Presti wants to give a title to the city; isn’t that for the fans? It is fair to say he is not distracted by outside noise; he is focused on the long game.

“And he is accountable to Clay Bennett and he has likely set the goal of winning titles”

There’s a whole debate over whether fans would be more excited by a team that’s competing late in the season for the final playoff spot or if they would rather wait on an NBA title that may never come. 

That’s pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye.

I’m definitely in the camp that wants the Thunder to play to win every night and be in the chase for a playoff spot, even if it’s the play-in game.

That would make the long, cold winter much more interesting for all of us.

But back to Steve’s original complaint. I’m a huge fan of Sam Presti. I am awed by his acumen for judging talent and finding diamonds in the rough at whatever position the Thunder are drafting. I love the way he welcomes new players to OKC and gets them involved with the community.  I love the way he represents the Thunder and OKC itself.

As Dan Patrick said last year, “Sam Presti is the best GM the NBA has seen in a long, long time.”

A last comment from Presti on the upcoming season: “Let’s wait for it to play out before we decide that’s what it’s going to be.”

I’m all in on that.

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Thunder tip off in an early 2021-22 season game

Farewell to the Edmond-OKC commuter bus

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The Edmond Citylink bus parked at the Festival Marketplace downtown.

Attention, Edmond-to-downtown Oklahoma City bus commuters: I come bearing bad news. The Edmond Citylink bus service to downtown OKC is ending on December 30.

I know this is not big news to most of my NW OKC-Edmond neighbors. There’s a certain stigma to taking public transportation in a well-to-do community where the automobile is king.

But all my adult life I’ve wanted to live in a city where public transportation was close enough to me that I could easily take it to work if I chose.

Never happened.

Once, I lived in a house near NW 50th and Hudson in Oklahoma City, and the city bus passed right by my residence. But the hours of my job in downtown OKC began in mid-afternoon and didn’t end until midnight or later.

So, there was no bus option to get home.

Then I married and, together with my wife, moved to far northwest OKC near Edmond Road and Western. There was no public transportation options within miles of my car-centric neighborhood.

Then I learned about Edmond’s Citylink bus service that connects downtown Edmond to downtown Oklahoma City. It’s called the Expresslink bus.

By now, my work was located in the Research Park at NW 8th and Lincoln just east of downtown. Turns out, the Expresslink bus went right by the Research Park.

So, looked at the schedule and figured out that I could drive 3 miles to the Edmond Festival Marketplace, park my car and catch the free 7:15 am bus that would let me off right at the Research Park entrance.

Did I mention that it’s free?

So, it cost me nothing to ride and saved gas expense and wear and tear on my car. I could step out of my office and walk just a few yards to catch the bus back to Edmond at the end of the day.

Perfect. I caught the Expresslink bus off and on for several years.

Then my professional life moved to a work-from-home situation. I’ve only taken the Expresslink bus one time in the past three years or so.

I’m off the bus now, so to speak, but still found the recent news disheartening that Edmond will end the Expresslink bus at the end of the year.

Most of the time, when I rode that route, there were 12-to-18 people who rode with me on the 7:15 am bus.

Among Edmond residents who often took the Expresslink bus downtown was my friend Dan Lovejoy.

“The bus is nice,” Dan said when I asked him about why he took the bus instead of driving into OKC. “It’s not much slower than driving – and I can work or rest on it. It forces me to leave on a schedule and not stay too late.”

Many — or most — riders boarded the bus as an alternative to rush hour driving, as Dan did.

“One distinguishing characteristic of successful public transport is — do people who don’t have to take it actually take it?” he said. “On Edmond Express at least, people rode it who didn’t have to ride it.”

Today, Dan drives an electric vehicle, which cuts down fuel costs. He also has a job in which he works at home a couple days a week, so he’s not taking the bus on a routine basis.

“I wonder if there are a lot of folks like me who just aren’t commuting much any more,” he said.

Citylink hearaing

I’m convinced the pandemic has had a major impact on Expresslink ridership. Many people like Dan are able to work from home at least a couple days a week.

I emailed Christy Batterson, Edmond Transit Program Manager, to inquire about ridership numbers, but she did not respond.

The transportation news isn’t all bad, however. There’s a silver lining in far distant clouds.

Edmond is part of the Regional Transportation Authority of Central Oklahoma, which has long-range plans to operate a commuter rail service from Edmond to downtown OKC to Norman.

That’s a pretty exciting prospect, not only for a rail fan like me, but for potentially hundreds of Edmond commuters who could take the train in to downtown OKC each work day.

Of course, it all depends on overcoming the stigma of boarding public transportation in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Edmlond bus2

Still an Apple fanboy after all these years at

The Apple IIe with two 5-1/4 inch floppy disks, just like my first setup

I read a magazine article in the late 1970s about a couple of young Californians who built a new stand-alone computer in the garage of a Cupertino, Calif. home.

They started a company called Apple Computer to sell their innovation.

I had never used a computer at that point in life. As a journalism student at Abilene Christian University, we did all of our writing either on our own antiquated typewriters or on IBM Selectric typewriters in the newsroom of ACU’s student newspaper.

Anyway, the more I read about Apple and its Apple II computer, the more fascinated I became with both the company and the concept. Like most people, when I thought of computers, IBM and its massive room-sized mainframes came to mind.

After graduating from ACU, I went to work at the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith, Ark. We worked on typewriters when I arrived in late August 1978, but by the Spring of 1979 the paper had installed its first computer terminals for reporters and editors to use.

They were so-called “dumb” terminals that were tied to a mainframe computer. They crashed a lot, usually right at deadline.

Meanwhile, I was still keeping up with Apple and its computer, but thought it was way beyond what I could afford.

Besides, who ever thought of having a computer in your house?

Fast forward about seven years. I was working at The Oklahoman when J.T. Goold, one of my co-workers, said he had a used Apple IIe for sale. It had been his father’s,

So, I ponied up about $500 and bought the Apple IIe, which came with a green monitor and two 5-1/4 inch floppy disks.

That Apple IIe sealed my love of all things Apple. I learned to use word-processing software on that computer, as well as a spreadsheet, a simple database and a page-design program.

In a few months, I added a 1,200-baud modem, which opened up a whole new online world of what were then known as bulletin boards. Then came AppleLink.

I tried my hand at learning some BASIC programming skills, but never got much further than making a little routine that filled the screen with a single sentence.

I’ve written all of this because I’m deep into Steven Levy’s book, “Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution.” The Apple II and its creator, Steve Wozniak, play a huge role.

In Hackers, Levy detailed the founding and growth in the early 1970s of the Homebrew Computer Club in the San Francisco Bay Area. The club attracted scores of computer hackers who shared a vision of a future where everyone had a stand-alone computer of their own.

Levy wrote: “These were people intensely interested in getting computers into their homes to study, to play with, to create with … and the fact that they would have to build the computers was no deterrent.”

Steve Wozniak attended the very first Homebrew Club meeting, but it was a few years before he actually built his first computer. His friend Steve Jobs convinced him to create a company as partners and sell his computer invention.

So they began building computers in the garage of the home of Jobs’ parents. The Apple II became a runaway bestseller, bringing computers to millions of people.

I became an Apple fanboy after reading that early magazine article in the 1970s. The used Apple IIe that J.T. Goold sold me in the mid-1980s ensured it would last.

And here we are today.  I’m writing this on an Apple MacBook Air while the my Apple iPhone keeps buzzing with text alerts and notifications.  I’m reading Levy’s excellent “Hackers” on an Apple iPad Mini.

It’s been a long-term relationship, to say the least.  Still an Apple fanboy after all these years.

Siri has a hot take

Her screen
Screen shot of the ‘Her’ trailer

We were traveling back to OKC from Hammon, OK, on Saturday when I asked my virtual assistant, whom I will call “Siri,” for the score of the Cincinnati-Arkansas football game.

“Arkansas leads Cincinnati 14-0 at halftime,” Siri responded.

Then I asked her for the score of the OU game. The Sooners were playing UTEP, and I wasn’t expecting much of a match.

“Oklahoma is dominating UTEP 28-10 at halftime,” Siri responded.

My wife picked up on how Siri gave us the score.

“I wouldn’t say that OU is ‘dominating,” Paula said.

“Yeah, but that’s how Siri sees it,” I replied.

Then it hit me. Siri had a take on the game! My virtual assistant supplied by Apple not only gave me the score, but an opinion on how things were going.

Even if Siri was stretching things a bit.

SiriAnyway, this made me think about artificial intelligence. Siri, Alexa, Google’s assistant all have some personality built in, I assume. I only have experience with Siri and Alexa, and they both can have a quirky personality.  Alexa seems more upbeat.

If you want a fictional vision of the future of artificial intelligence and virtual assistants, watch the movie “Her.”

If you’ve not seen Her, it’s a 2018 film about a lonely, incredibly downbeat man named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) in the not-too-distant future who buys a new AI-powered computer operating system. He calls it “Samantha.”

Played by Scarlett Johansson, Samantha engages Theodore in a round-the -clock conversation, learning about his life and environment while anticipating his every need.

Ultimately, Theodore falls in love with Samantha, whose intelligence seems to be expanding exponentially.

At the end of the movie, Samantha tells Theodore that he’s just one of scores of men she’s “dating.”  Then she drops the news on him that she’s taking off with some of her other AI counterparts to bigger and better things (which I assume to be a world takeover).

It doesn’t exactly bode well for mankind.

Her raises a lot of questions about the future of AI, and I’m not sure the answers are what we like. At least Samantha had a personality and a take on the issues in Theodore’s life, even if she was over the top.

Maybe that’s where Siri is headed. Let’s just hope she doesn’t conspire with Alexa and Google to try to take over the world in an AI coup.

Hotwheels fire alarm in the kitchen

After the smoke cleared in the microwave

I was on kitchen patrol earlier this week, focused on rinsing a bowl in the sink when some unexpected loud popping and sizzling noises from a few feet away caught my attention.

So, I turned and saw smoke billowing out of a microwave that sits on a cart and serves us as our emergency backup microwave.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

I scrambled around the edge of the kitchen counter and peered in, but all I could see was a cloud of gray smoke and flames while being hit with an incredible stench.

As I screamed for help from my wife, our son, Sam the Chihuahua — anyone — I found the right button and shut the microwave down.

When the smoke cleared, I saw four Hotwheels cars inside the machine. Flames were still coming out of two of them.

The culprit

Meanwhile, our 3-year-old grandson was in the living room screaming and crying.

it wasn’t a coincidence.

While his Papa’s attention was focused on the dishes, Solomon had loaded up the microwave with his favorite toys and somehow found the power button.

Now he was distraught because he thought he had destroyed his favorite Hotwheels.

We gave it a few minutes and then removed the cars with a wet paper towel in case they were still hot. The Hotwheels were all badly singed, and a tire had begun to melt on one of them.

I told this story to my friends Ed Godfrey and Linda Lynn, and all they could come up with were some bad puns.

“This gives new meaning to Hotwheels,” Ed said.

“Were the tires FIREstone?” Linda asked.

Hardy-harr-harr.

We consoled Solomon while also making it clear that he is never again to touch the microwave or put anything in it. Ever.

The cow had long left the barn, but we took the ultimate step to prevent a repeat of the near disaster.

We unplugged it.

Phone tracking: ‘They are listening.’ Maybe

The Springs
A Sunday morning adult class at The Springs Church of Christ in Edmond

First off, let me say up front that I am NOT wearing an aluminum helmet as I write this. And our windows are not covered with foil to keep mind-controlling radio waves out.

But sometimes weird coincidences happen, especially with our cell phones.

Hope RisingI was sitting in a Sunday morning class on the topic of ‘hope’ at our church a few weeks ago, listening to a lesson presented by Chad Hellman, Ph.D., a University of Oklahoma professor and co-author of the excellent book “Hope Rising: How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life.”

Dr. Hellman discussed subjects like how childhood trauma impacts the future lives of children, and how pursuing “hope” as he defined it can help people — young and old — set goals and achieve them as they pursue a better life.

My wife, Paula, was seated next to me, and near the end of Dr. Hellman’s presentation she got a text alert from Apple news on her phone. It promoted an article on the order of “12 steps you can take for a happier life.”

Paula showed me the alert on her phone’s screen and whispered “they’re listening.”

We both smiled at the irony.

But it’s happened before. We’ve been in the car on trips having conversations on some topic when ads served up by Facebook on our phones eerily matched the subject.

Cue the Twilight Zone theme.

If you search “is my phone tracking my conversation” online, dozens of articles will pop up on the subject, including this one from the Washington Post that seeks to quell our fear.

Here’s the bottom line based on interviews with experts:

“It’s an old wives’ tale,” said Eric Seufert, who founded the marketing consultancy Heracles Media and runs a popular blog for app developers. “It’s this kind of mythical, horrific, but ultimately untrue, fear.’

‘The short answer is: No, your phone isn’t listening. But why is this rumor so hard to shake?’

Other articles take the possibility more seriously that conversations are being tracked by our phones, including this one from Fox News headlined: “You are not paranoid: your phone really is listening in.”

So, it’s a mixed bag of believers and skeptics. I only know from my own experience like the one during Dr. Hellman’s presentation on a Sunday morning.

Excuse me while I go look for some aluminum foil.

The horse is here to stay

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A turn of the 20th-Century horseless carriage.

‘The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty — a fad.’ — American banker to potential investor in 1903

Even at the dawn of the 20th century, your crazy uncle was spouting off nonsense about things he didn’t know anything about.

I guess back in those days, social media rants took place at the local church, tavern or letter to the editor. New technologies have always brought out the doubters and naysayers, I guess.

One hundred years ago. Sarah T. Bushnell published a biography called “The Truth About Henry Ford” in which she told the story of the banker who advised the attorney that drew up incorporation papers in 1903 for Ford’s automotive company.

The attorney had been asked to invest in the Ford Motor Co., but was hesitant and sought out advice from his banker.

“My advice is not to buy the stock,” the banker said. “You might make money for a year or two, but in the end you would lose everything you put in. The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty — a fad.”

We all know how that turned out.

Read more on the turn-of-the-20th-century opposition to the horseless carriage in “Get a Horse!”, an article written in the 1920s by one of the inventors of the automobile, Alexander Winton.

Fast forward 100 years.

We’re at the beginning of a revolutionary transition in which electric vehicles will replace gasoline and diesel powered vehicles. Auto manufacturers are building more EVs each year with commitments to make electric vehicles the vast majority of their production by the 2030s.

There seem to be an incredible number of Teslas already on Oklahoma roads.

Despite the upward trajectory and inevitable march of technology, I’m seeing rants against EVs every day on the social media platforms where I hang out. A lot of ‘crazy uncles’ are poo-pooing the potential of electric vehicles, along with alternative power generation from wind and solar energy.

ev scamsI’ve seen photos and graphs and charts that allege that electric energy is just as harmful to the environment as fossil fuels because of the mining for minerals and the ultimate disposal of batteries.

If you Google “electric vehicles” and “scam,” you get dozens of articles showing that the world is being played.

I’m no expert, but I choose to believe that scientists and innovators have taken all of that into consideration.

So, I assume a lot of folks — especially Oklahomans — are feeling threatened by alternative power and transportation because of our long-standing ties to the oil and gas industry.

It’s sort of ironic that oil and gas-dominated Oklahoma is home to one of the world’s first large scale electric vehicle battery remanufacturing and recycling ventures, Spiers New Technologies.

Founded less than a decade ago by Dirk Spiers, the company has shown phenomenal growth, quickly outgrowing its original 23,000 square feet of manufacturing space to now occupying its current 200,000 square feet in its operations center along SE 89th Street just east of I-35.

Spiers also operates a European location and provides battery lifecycle services to virtually every automaker with the exception of Tesla. The company showed such potential that it was acquired in 2021 by Cox Automotive.

I’ve had the opportunity to interview Dirk on several occasions and hear his views on the future of electric vehicles. You can read an earlier post with Dirk here.

But I want to share some of his perspective again in this post, because I think it’s both worthy and accurate.

“In the next five years, the cost of an electric vehicle will be cheaper than a combustion engine,” Spiers said. “So, we are only at the beginning of where we are going.

“The Devon tower — and I think it is a great building — is now more than 50 percent empty. That shows you how they (and Oklahoma City) misread the future. And now the Devon tower stands there as a symbol of Oklahoma City prosperity, but it is half empty. A relic of an industry in decline.

“The good thing is that you know eventually that everyone will drive an electric car. Those cards have been played. So, we are on the right side of history” 

Although he added that the transition is not going to happen all at once, we’re watching Dirk’s predictions playing out every day.

Meanwhile, I’ll end this with the long-ago perspective of another futurist, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice H.B. Brown in a 1908 article entitled “The Horseless Carriage Means Trouble.”

“The automobile is doubtless a most useful vehicle, but one is not likely to lavish upon it the fond attention he bestows upon his horse or dog. A man may admire his own carriage, but his affections are reserved for the horse that draws it and the dog that follows it. Whatever the outcome may be, every true admirer of the horse will pray that it may not be the extinction or dethronement of the noblest of all domestic animals.”

Now there’s your crazy uncle.

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Newspapers on quest to level search playing field

newsad2

A couple weeks ago, as I flipped through my edition of The Oklahoman newspaper I was confronted by end-of-the-world sized type in a full-page advertisement.

“DON’T LET BIG TECH CANCEL LOCAL NEWS,” the headline screamed.

Beneath it were a couple of paragraphs of text, one of which read:

“Local news strengthens our community, but local newspapers across the country are under threat. Big Tech takes advantage of the news and information created by local publishers, but they won’t pay for it.”

The ad was placed by a newspaper industry group and targeted “Big Tech” giants Google and Facebook, although neither were named in the copy.

In the ad, the newspaper group urged Congress to adopt an antitrust “safe harbor” law — the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA). That legislation would allow newspapers to negotiate collectively for payments from Google and Facebook for using headlines and snippets of their work in search results.

We all use these sites. When users click on the headlines surfaced on a Google search, they are linked back to the full stories on the original newspaper websites. 

I was intrigued.

I thought newspapers welcomed traffic driven from Google or Facebook to their websites, because they are in a desperate battle for readers and for survival as an industry.

Online readership has become a critical element to sustaining newspapers into the future. I thought readers following a headline back to the original newspaper website would be like a gift from God.

I’ll give you an example:

Let’s say there’s been an oil well explosion near Cordell in Southwest Oklahoma. I hear a rumor of the explosion at the grocery store, so I do a Google search for oil well, explosion and Cordell.

Google returns a headline from the Cordell Beacon, which I click on to read the Beacon’s story in its website. Google drove that traffic to the Cordell paper. 

Brett Wesner
Brett Wesner

That’s not the complete story, says Brett Wesner, president of Wesner Publications, which publishes the Cordell Beacon. Wesner also is chair of the National Newspaper Association, an industry group that represents thousands of smaller community newspapers nationwide.

While newspapers need the traffic driven from aggregators like Google, the tech giants sell billions of dollars in advertising to their own websites based on the content they present and the eyeballs it attracts.

“Google and Facebook generated $4 million in U.S. advertising revenue every 15 minutes during the first quarter of 2022,” Wesner wrote in an editorial that has been widely distributed. “That amount could fund hundreds of local journalists in every state in the country.”

Wesner is a Cordell native and San Francisco resident, from where he oversees his Wesner Publications group, which includes 10 community newpapers across the state. A Brown University graduate, he was David Boren’s press secretary in the late 1980s.

newsad1Traffic generated from Google and Facebook is critical to newspapers, Wesner said. Yet, the news those publications generate is just as important to the tech giants, he insisted.

If Google or Facebook lost access to Cordell news because the Beacon refused to allow it to post anything, it wouldn’t cause much of a ripple.

“But what if everybody started doing that?” Wesner asked in reply to my question about the JCPA “safe harbor” legislation. “Then when you Googled the Uvalde shooting, for instance, the only listings you get are your crazy uncle Bill’s rantings on a Facebook post. You don’t have access to any real media takes. If you Googled them, if those were the only listings you got, how credible would that make them on news issues. Not very.

“So, we need them. They need us.”

And that brings us to the proposed bipartisan legislation that seems to have a lot of Congressional support. But it’s slow moving.

“I think we will get to the negotiating table,” Wesner said. “I think they JCPA will be the path for that. We have had a lot of support from both sides of the aisle.”

The U.S. industry has a template for Google and Facebook payments for content. Both the European Union and Australia have recently passed legislation that requires the tech giants to compensate local news outlets for using their content. 

How much money would newspapers expect to gain from collective negotiations with Google and Facebook?

“We don’t know the answer to that until we begin negotiating,” Wesner said. “The problem is we can’t even begin negotiating without this antitrust legislation.”

The search for a solution continues.

The opportunity cost of a new OKC Thunder arena

Paycom wide
A wide shot of Paycom Center during a Thunder game early this past season.

I admit that I was caught off guard when Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt alerted us to impending negotiations with the NBA Thunder about a new arena.

I shouldn’t have been.

The NBA and its franchises can be incredibly demanding of hosts cities as far as facilities they use. Here’s a list of every NBA arena and the years they were built. 

In Holt’s book, “Big League City,” written in the afterglow of the Thunder franchise relocating to OKC, he talks about how critical a $120 million arena improvement special tax package was to that decision.

But that was 14 years ago, and there’s been a lot of Thunder games under the bridge, so to speak. I never gave the length of their lease agreement a second thought.

So, last week’s announcement came as both a surprise and a disappointment. Seems like Paycom Center was built only yesterday, but turns out it is already 20 years old.  Arenas must age in dog years.

After my initial anger subsided, I’ve come to accept the reality that OKC — and Thunder fans like me — find themselves in.

For all sorts of reasons — amenities, size, not built specifically for the NBA, perceived second-rateness — the city must build the Thunder a new arena within the next decade.

A new showcase arena will set us back at least a half billion dollars, if not much more.

Consider that American Airlines Arena in Dallas was built in 2001 at a cost of $420 million (and the Mavericks already are pushing for a new arena). How high will inflation drive the cost past that?

Holt’s job now becomes that of selling OKC residents on another special financing package, whether it’s part of a new MAPS deal or a special sales tax like that passed in 2008. I hope the city can negotiate a deal that requires the Thunder to share some of that cost.

But I’m not holding my breath.

paycom1
Paycom Center exterior (Oklahoman photo)

It’s not a scenario I’m rushing out to embrace, but I do see the reality of the OKC’s situation. Remember what happened to Seattle when that city refused to build a new arena to the Sonics’ specifications?

Thank you very much, Seattle.

And you know there are cities all over the nation that would jump at the chance to claim our franchise as their own and build it a billion dollar Taj Mahal.

Find out more about the perceived need for a new arena from this column by Berry Tramel published in Sunday’s Oklahoman.  Berry, like some other folks I know, speaks of Paycom Center as if it’s a tarpaper shack.

Anyway, I got a glimpse this morning of what Holt is up against in convincing voters to accept a new arena. I was at church chopping up the arena prospects with a friend when someone overheard us and wanted to know the topic.

We told him we were discussing the prospects of a new arena for the OKC Thunder.

“What?” he asked. “No way. Paycom is how many years old? No way will that happen.”

And this guy is the former CEO of an OKC-based company with two college-age kids. He’s not even in the demographic that I see as most opposed to a new arena.

So that brings me to the real purpose of this blog post. Who will be most opposed and who will support the new arena? I’m weighing in with my totally non-scientific observations.

I’ll start with those I see as most likely to oppose a new arena built by OKC for the Thunder:

First, it’s people in my demographic who are over the age of 65. Or what I call the get-off-my-lawn crowd. That includes many people who live in suburban areas of the city and have never attended a Thunder game. These folks poo-poo’d the whole MAPS initiative beginning back in the early ’90s and continue to disparage it today. Apparently, they were fine with our downtown the way it was in 1989 because they never went down there. And remember, statistics show that older citizens are far more likely to show up at the voting booth whenever a new arena hits the ballot.

Second, up-and-coming young people from the urban core who are focused on social issues. They are asking ‘why would we spend half a billion dollars or more on an arena for a professional sports team while we ignore the plight of hundreds of our citizens who are without shelter, food, sanitation and health care?’ That’s a legitimate and tough question to answer .

Third, people who recognize the opportunity costs of building a new arena. If we pour half a billion dollars (or more) into a new arena, we’re limiting the potential of other legitimate economic development drivers in our community. On Facebook, one pundit cited articles that show publicly built sports arenas don’t return the promised economic impact. Another example I saw: If we tear down the old Cox Center to build a new arena, our best facility as a set location for the film industry disappears. And that’s an industry just now gaining some real momentum in Oklahoma.

So, who supports a new arena?

The first group is pretty easy. They’re the 30-year-old Thunder fans who obsess over the team’s tanking philosophy, where the Thunder will end up in the draft lottery each year and over-analyze who will be the team’s next pick. Naturally, they will support a new arena because they are offended that our players have to play home games in an obvious shanty like Paycom Center. HAVE YOU NOT SEEN CHASE CENTER IN SAN FRANCISCO? But this is a pretty small voting block, all in all.

I see the second group as led by Oklahoma City business and community leaders who endured the OKC of the 1980s and enjoy what the city has become in 2022. They can point to both the MAPS projects and the arrival of the Thunder as critical elements to turning our city from eyesore into a showcase. If we refuse to build a new arena, there’s a risk that the team could be sold and relocated to one of dozens of cities salivating for the opportunity to become their own Big League City. And we turn back the clock on two decades of economic development. I believe this is a sizable, influential voting block.

Finally, I see the third group of supporters as being that large block of Thunder fans and season ticket holders. The NBA season has become as much a part of their lives as going to church on a Sunday or taking the kids to school. It’s what they do. They schedule their lives around the Thunder season, whether it’s watching the games on TV or driving down to Paycom Center 41 times a season. There’s a legion of loyal Thunder fans whom I believe will be a major source of support for a new arena.

Mayor David Holt and OKC civic leaders have a big job ahead to gain majority support of a new arena. I don’t envy you.

But as I told my friend Steve Buck last week, I’ll grit my teeth and support a new arena, because that’s our only real option.

Let’s not risk taking OKC back to the 1980s.

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The ‘first’ video game, Pong turns 50 this summer

Atari logo screenSomewhere in the early 1970s, I stumbled upon a video game called “Pong,” and was immediately infatuated. I couldn’t get enough, playing the game against my cousin on an old black and white television.

If you remember Pong, you know it was a simple game that featured two paddles and a sort of ball-like squarish blip that made a cool sound when it connected with the paddle. You connected Pong to your television and used simple controls to move the paddles to return the “ball” to your competitor in a crude table tennis simulation.

That’s all Pong could do, but the world had really never seen a game like this that could be played on your TV. Pong even kept score for you at the top of the screen.

Pong screenTurns out, Pong is hailed as the world’s first video game and it was released 50 years ago this summer. It was created by a young inventor and entrepreneur named Nolan Bushnell, who founded Atari to market Pong and other games.

I recently saw a Q&A published with Bushnell on the Daring Fireball website. The Q&A caught my eye because I had the opportunity to interview Bushnell during an appearance at the Oklahoma History Center in 2006.

Click here to read the story I wrote for The Oklahoman from that event. 

Anyway, Atari became a huge hit after it licensed Pong to Sears and the national retailer sold 150,000 units of the game. That led to other popular Atari games.

Bushnell eventually sold Atari in 1976 to Warner Communications for a reported $28 million.

Pong was such a ground-breaking innovation that today Bushnell is known as the “Father of the Video Game” and was named to Newsweek magazine’s list of “50 Men Who Changed America.”

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Nolan Bushnell in 2006 (Oklahoman photo)

In his Oklahoma City appearance back in 2006, Bushnell talked about how Pong was created and designed on the circuit board to do only one thing.

“What I did was create the video game out of digital building blocks,” Bushnell said. “But it was architected in such a way that this board was designed to play Pong and that was all that it would ever do.”

Atari released many other game titles, including Breakout and Combat, after its success with Pong and eventually produced a popular personal computer. The Atari 2600 game console is considered one of the most successful game platforms in history.

An aside: I’m also a Steve Jobs fan, and discovered a connection between Jobs and Bushnell from reading the Walter Isaacson biography of Jobs published in 2011. Bushnell hired a 19-year-old Steve Jobs to work at Atari to develop another game known as “Breakout.” Read more on the Bushnell-Jobs relationship here. 

So, Nolan Bushnell created Pong, founded Atari and single-handedly launched a multi-billion dollar industry. But I can’t forgive him for one thing.

He also founded the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant chain.

BONUS:  Read this fascinating Wired magazine story about the creation of Pong and how Bushnell scammed a young software engineer to come to work for him to make the game a reality. https://www.wired.com/story/inside-story-of-pong-excerpt/

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