My date with COVID finally arrived

ER room at Mercy
In the ER room at the Mercy Health Emergency Room along i-35 in Edmond.

I’ve read somewhere that COVID is eventually going to infect us all, but I had begun to doubt that it would catch me.

Until it did.

It’s been more than 2-1/2 years since our world was shook when the pandemic washed over us, beginning locally when the Utah Jazz-Oklahoma City Thunder game was cancelled on March 11, 2020.

That was a jarring, scary night, with both my wife and my mother in-law at that game.

Anyway, we masked up and stayed home much of 2020. Then just after Christmas of that year my wife had a mild COVID infection. She tested positive two weeks in a row.

I tested at the same time and was negative each time.

Also, I received the Pfizer vaccine in early January 2021 and declared myself bullet proof, even at my advanced age of 69. I’ve added two booster shots since then.

Then a little over a week ago I woke in the middle of the night with an unexpected, out-of-the-blue sore throat. No big deal.

But I lost energy and appetite throughout the next day, while adding a cough and tons of drainage.

By the third day, it moved into my chest and I had no taste or smell.

So, I went to a walk-in clinic. I was tested for STREP, Flu and COVID. The COVID test came back positive, which I was NOT expecting.

The doctor gave me some pills to take for the next five days, as well as a nasal spray. He said I should no longer be contagious after five days.

Things didn’t improve over the next four days, so by Sunday I walked into the Mercy Health ER along I-35 to see if I could find some relief. The health care professionals there were awesome and empathetic while giving me a steroid shot and hydrating IV.

By Monday, there was incredible improvement in my condition. I’m still improving and hope to be completely symptom free by the end of this week.

Meanwhile, what of my wife, who sleeps and eats with me? She had laryngitis while all of this was going on, and has been tested twice for COVID over the past week.

Negative, both times. So, it’s role reversal this time.

I’ve learned my lesson. I’m not bullet proof. I am thankful for the vaccines and boosters. Because of my age and medical history, there’s no telling how far down COVID could have taken me.

Now I’m up for the Bivalent booster in a couple weeks. I’m all in.

An NBA Don Quixote takes on tanking — again

Plenty of seats should be available this season at OKC Thunder home games

I’ve been on a 2-year long diatribe on this blog against tanking in the NBA, mostly because of my frustration with the OKC Thunder playing for better draft position instead of winning.

NBA teams never, ever say the word ‘tanking.’ They use the word ‘process,’ instead. If you want to know, tanking is the process of sitting your best players in favor of less experienced back-of-the-bench guys in hopes they will lose instead of win.

Enough losing and you get more ping-pong balls and potentially a better position in the annual NBA draft. It’s all so teams can capture the next unicorn for their roster, who in this year’s case is 7-4 Victor Wembanyama from France.

Wembanyama wowed the NBA world this summer when he dominated a couple of games played in Las Vegas against international and G-League teams.

For what it’s worth, a website called NBA Draftroom already has the Thunder selecting Wembanyama as the No. 1 pick in next summer’s draft.

What does that tell you about where the Thunder are in The ProcessTM? It means the Thunder must lose enough games this year so they finish among the bottom three teams. That will give them the best odds (14%) of receiving the No. 1 pick.

It’s still a long shot.

Source: nbadraftroom.com

So, that leaves me with the point I’ve tried to make for months. Tanking disrespects fans, corporate sponsors AND current players, as well. I could go on all day about ticket prices, sponsorship packages and the lean crowds we saw at Paycom Center last season.

But, my friend Ed Godfrey says I’m an NBA Don Quixote tilting at windmills. I’ve aired my own theory of how the league could discourage tanking.

Ed put a pin into my trial balloon.

“I don’t think the league cares about tanking,” Ed said. “If they wanted to stop it all they have to do is give every non-playoff team an equal chance of getting the No. 1 pick.”

In fact, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has addressed tanking in a couple of articles recently published on ESPN.com

Here’s the money quote from the most recent article:

“It’s one of these things where there’s no perfect solution, but we still think a draft is the right way to rebuild your league over time,” Silver said. “We still think it makes sense among partner teams, where a decision was made where the worst-performing teams are able to restock with the prospects of the best players coming in. So we haven’t come up with a better system.”

That leaves fans, sportswriters and bloggers with the responsibility to come up with ideas to negate tanking.

I proposed in a blog post earlier this year that the league institute a late-season lottery tournament among non playoff qualifiers that would reward the team with the best record with the No. 1 pick.  It’s the ultimate play-in.

My friend Steve Buck has given the tanking issue a lot of thought, as well. He’s come up with his own proposal that I think has a lot of merit.

Steve suggests that the league monitor “load management” among teams and how often healthy players are sitting out.

“Teams can practice load management if they want,” Steve said. “But teams that play their best players most frequently are rewarded with better draft odds than teams that routinely do load management. If your roster is truly bad, you get help. But if you are gaming minutes, you receive a penalty in reduced odds.”

Steve has it all sketched out down to the deadline for teams to announce a player sitting out and a requirement to reduce ticket prices for fans who often buy tickets just to see a specific star player.

“Only one player can be on ‘load management’ per night max, and a player is only allowed four load management nights per season,” Steve said. “Load management must be announced 24 hours before a given game and the club choosing to rest players must find a way to compensate single game ticket holders that bought seats for a specific contest through the NBA sanctioned ticket vendor.”

His scenario also includes evaluating injured players for game-ready status. The Thunder’s Shea Gilgeous-Alexander last season, for instance. We had to take the team’s word (or maybe the team’s physician) that SGA was not game ready for about the last 20 games or so of the season.

“That’s tough to prove,” Godfrey said. “If SGA has a ‘minor’ injury and the Thunder don’t want to risk further injury by not playing him the last 20 games when they are out of the playoffs, how are you going to prove that is tanking and not a decision in the best interest of the player’s and the team’s future?

“And the player’s union would get involved.”

So, what have we solved? Nothing, I guess. But I hope the tanking dialogue continues until the NBA takes substantial action to level odds for all non-playoff qualifiers, as Ed suggested.

A final word about draft odds from Silver as quoted in the ESPN article.

“You’re dealing with a 14% chance of getting the first pick,” Silver said. “I recognize at the end of the day analytics are what they are and it’s not about superstition. A 14% chance is better than a 1% chance or a no percent chance. But even in terms of straightforward odds, it doesn’t benefit a team to be the absolute worst team in the league, and even if you’re one of the poor-performing teams, you’re still dealing with a 14% chance [of winning the lottery].”

So, why can’t you level the odds for non playoff qualifiers?

Stay tuned.

Adam Silver at NBA draft. (source: Associated Press)

Healthcare for all needs to happen

clinic

The healthcare industry has thrown yet another obstacle at American consumers, and it has me seething.

Here’s some background.

My primary physician recently sent me to a specialist for a healthcare concern I’m having. I had never been to this specialist’s office before.

So, a couple days after my doctor made the recommendation, I received a call from the specialist’s clinic. A time was arranged for an office visit, followed by questions about my insurance.

Count me among the nation’s elderly, so my insurance is Medicare and a secondary insurance.

Next, I was hit with a demand that I’ve never experienced from any hospital, clinic, doctor or healthcare specialist. I was required to provide a debit or credit card number for the provider in advance of the office visit.

“We require all of our patient’s to have a credit or debit card on file,” I was told.

What?

I was angry as I mulled over the requirement well before the appointment.

But I showed up for the doctor’s visit, filled out required paperwork and then was confronted by the request for the debit or credit card.

So, I hit the innocent receptionist with all the GET OFF MY LAWN fury of an over-the-hill 69-year-old man.

This is a first, I told her, loudly. So, if I have a balance after the insurance portion is paid, you will draft it out of my account?

She told me that the clinic implemented the requirement because of one-time patients who refused to cover the out-of-pocket portion owed the physician.

I get it. We’ve had some pretty big out-of-pocket expenses over the years that we’ve slowly paid off over time to providers. At times, we’ve even had our balances turned over to collection agencies.

But they all got paid, eventually.

That’s just a hazard of the American healthcare system, since we are one of the few developed countries in the world that does not have universal healthcare for all.

I didn’t ask to be sick. No one does.

Anyway, I told the nice young woman that if I DID have a balance after insurance paid its portion, I would promptly cancel the card they have on hand before they had a chance to draft it from my account.

She said I had the option of requiring the clinic to contact me first and ask to draft the amount before actually doing so.

My old-man fury was slightly diminished.

But my anger is not on my behalf. It’s for the millions of Americans — working or not — who don’t ask to be sick but are victimized by a system that saddles them with humongous healthcare costs when they do become ill.

When folks can’t pay their healthcare bills and are turned away from medical providers, they end up going to the emergency room for their healthcare. And that’s the absolute most expensive option.

But that’s the American WayTM.

So, what’s the purpose of this diatribe? I’m ranting because I consider healthcare a basic human right, and our system treats it like it’s a Mercedes that we can’t afford.

Let’s join the rest of the world and implement healthcare for all.

I know, I know. Fearmongers claim it would bankrupt the country or severely diminish healthcare coverage for the average American.

That’s an old argument that I used to hear on my grandmother’s radio as she listened to the H.L. Hunt-sponsored “Life Line” shows in the early 1960s. And that’s before Medicare was even implemented.

Medicare has been an incredibly successful lifeline for elderly Americans.

We could slowly implement universal healthcare as an option in place with private health insurance for those who choose to keep it. Or lower the qualifying age for Medicare to, say, 60. Or 55.

We can make it happen. It’s going to happen.

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.

thunder tip2021
Thunder tip off in an early 2021-22 season game

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

horseless carriage
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.

negative screen]

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.

paycom2

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.”

Bushnell
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/

Atari system

When a line was drawn on the price of gas

gas prices
The sign shows gas prices at the OnCue at Western Ave. and Edmond Road on Tuesday morning.

As I fueled up my vehicle the other day with unleaded gas priced at the bargain price of $4.57.9 a gallon, it stirred a memory that I clearly recalled from 1973.

Gas prices were suddenly rising in the early ’70s when I heard an angry young man defiantly declare the line he was drawing in the sand.  It was in a time when Americans had been comfortable for years paying 30, 40, 50 cents a gallon.  

“I’ll never pay $1 for a gallon of gas,” he said.

So, how did that work out for you, fella?

I was living in Western Arkansas at the time, two years out of high school. A Sunday afternoon of what I will call sandlot football brought me into contact with a dozen or so local yahoos.

Somehow, the topic of the Arab oil embargo and gas prices became the focus of discussion among the group, when one guy defiantly declared what he would never pay for a gallon of gasoline.

Nearly 50 years later, I can still clearly hear his defiant tone and how I wondered at the time how a young man living in small town Arkansas could be so delusional. 

Would he beat the $1 gas price by purchasing fuel with a gun? Hunting down robber barons in the oil industry? Committing suicide just before the price crossed over the $1 rainbow from $.99.9?

Turns out, gas prices topped $1 a gallon not too many months after the bravado that I heard on that Sunday afternoon.

So, nearly half a century later, we find ourselves in another situation where gasoline prices are setting all-time highs. I’m not assigning blame like I read from so many who think President Biden should just pull a lever and prices will fall back to $1 and some change.

In today’s world, we’re at the mercy of Putin’s war, limited refining capacity, and, well, the robber barons who control the flow.

I will say this. Climbing fuel prices are a great incentive to get people to try public transportation.  Or electric vehicles.

Surely, in 2022 there’s no one foolish enough to declare that he will “never pay, uh, $6? $7?, for a gallon of gas.”

It could happen tomorrow.