Fan’s message to Thunder: Let’s play to win

thunder
The Thunder’s season-opening tipoff in 2015.

We’re about to welcome the launch of the OKC Thunder’s ’21-’22 season, and the debate over tanking continues for a second straight year.

Do the Thunder continue to “explore the roster” and chase the league’s worst record in hopes of drafting the next unicorn?

Or do they take this young roster and try to be competitive in a very good Western Conference?

Sam Presti said recently that the team will take no shortcuts. You can read into that whatever meaning you choose.

“What we want to do is be playing meaningful basketball at the end of the year,” Presti said. “We want to try to do everything we can to put ourselves in position to optimize the group that we have, and there’s just no shortcuts to that. It comes back to the commitment to the process that’s in place and being willing to be patient with that as we go through, especially with this much change as we’ve experienced.”

Here’s the takeaway from that: “commitment to the process.”   Translation: “lose for the lottery.”

In today’s column in The Oklahoman,  Berry Tramel laid it out. “Losing is the path to winning.”

Ouch.

But put me down for trying to be competitive.

I know that puts me at odds with my fellow Thunder fans who celebrate tanking and see a championship caliber team in the future as a result.

There seems to be a couple schools of thought within NBA fandom.

One school says that if you don’t win the NBA championship, your entire season is a bust.

So tank until you can build the roster up.

The other school says that competing at a high level against the best players in the world and making a playoff run is great entertainment.  Yes, we may come up short in the end, but we’ve got something to cheer for through the long, cold winter months.

Remember the fun we had in the early 2010s when the Thunder went deep into the playoffs, even if they came up short?

We were living high as Oklahoma City Thunder fans.  Those are cherished memories of mine almost a decade later.

But you know what?  Those Thunder teams didn’t win the championship.

That doesn’t diminish the memory for me in the least.

My friend Steve Buck argues that the Thunder team of that era was a championship caliber team even if it didn’t win it all.

“Here’s the deal…for many of those years we were capable of winning the title,” he says. “That’s the goal here…get a club rebuilt that is capable to contend. Playing for a one and out is not the goal.  You want to position yourself to win it all.”

My point is that we didn’t win it all, but, gee, we had fun.

And now we’re losing for the lottery.  It makes for long, bleak seasons.  And there’s no promise of a unicorn at the end. Or even of a top three pick (see this year’s lottery fiasco).

Here’s to the new season and hoping the Thunder will be over-achievers.

Let’s not chase the luck of the lottery once again.  Let’s play to win now.

BONUS: Here is how Berry Tramel has the bottom of the West ranked going into the season:

Tramel Predict

A night to remember with Howard Schnellenberger

Howard Schnellenberger on the OU sidelines in 1995. (Oklahoman photo)

I’m sure by now you’ve seen the news that former University of Oklahoma football coach Howard Schnellenberger passed away this morning.

Schnellenberger coached OU for one unspectacular season in 1995, and was fired right after the 5-5-1 season ended.

By OU standards, it was a disaster.

Schnellenberger came to OU with decades of football success on his resume and the confidence of a Gen. Douglas MacArthur. It just didn’t translate to success with the Sooners.

Although I was just an outsider looking in that year, all I could see was a pompous old man who thought his mere presence would inspire success.

Then fate brought me together with Howard for one night in 1995.

I was working as a Business News reporter at the time for the Daily Oklahoman. One of my beats was writing about Oklahoma agriculture.

You might remember that the Oklahoma Farm Bureau made Schnellenberger their spokesman in an ad campaign in 1995.  The ads appeared on Oklahoma TV stations and mainly featured Howard squinting into the distance as words described the value that the Farm Bureau brings its members.

Many folks thought Howard was an odd choice for the Farm Bureau. In fact, here’s something that Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel wrote back in ’95:

“Sudden thought: Why did the Oklahoma Farm Bureau select Howard Schnellenberger as its marketing spokesman? Aren’t most of those folks OSU graduates?”

But Schnellenberger’s most recent job before OU was that of football coach at the University of Louisville, and the executive director of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau at the time was a Kentucky native. So, there was a thin connection. 

Howard Schnellenberger (Oklahoman photo)

Then one day, out of the blue, my wife and I received an invitation from the Farm Bureau to attend a “media night” at Applewoods Restaurant. OU coach Howard Schnellenberger was the special guest speaker.

Paula and I loved Applewoods and its famous apple fritters, so of course we agreed to go.

Turns out, a local television reporter and I were the only “media” members at the dinner. And only about a dozen people total were at the Farm Bureau event.

Here’s all I remember about that night. Howard stood over our tables and droned on in a low monotone for about 30 minutes. I remember nothing about what he said.

My wife had an interesting experience, too. Howard’s wife, Beverlee, was with him and sort of latched on to Paula as her new best friend for the night. She never stopped talking.

I couldn’t wait for that painful evening now 26 years distant to be over.

And it wasn’t long before Schnellenberger’s tenure as OU coach was over, as well.

Rest in peace, Howard.

Bonus: Watch and read an oral history of Howard Schnellenberger at OU published by The Oklahoman in 2011.