By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
If Oklahoma City Thunder fans aren’t yet feeling the budding rivalry between their team and OKC’s second-round NBA playoff opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies, a recent blog post by a Grizzlies fan may just stoke some fires.
It seems this young Memphis fan made the trek this past Sunday from Tennessee to Oklahoma for Game 1 of the playoff series and left with some odd observations he passed along in his GrizzGrind.com blog.
Now, before we get too deep into it, let me preface this by saying Memphis is one cool city. Some folks think of Memphis and think immediately of Elvis and Graceland, which is all well and good, but Memphis is also home to blues music’s equivalent of the Las Vegas strip, namely, Beale Street.
Memphis sits right in the heart of the Delta, a short trip from Clarksdale, Miss., the home of the blues. Memphis is gritty and bluesy. And, forgive me for saying this, it also has the best barbecue to be found anywhere. Including Oklahoma.
In other words, I have no ax to grind against Memphis. I have been there many times and relished each trip. But if this recent blog was any indication, Memphis fans can learn a lot from Oklahoma fans.
The writer starts off by wondering why OKC streets were quiet at 9:30 a.m., which was 21⁄2 hours before tip-off. Well, it probably had a little thing to do with something called church.
Having now lived in Oklahoma for nearly five years since relocating from Detroit, I can attest Oklahomans take their religion seriously, but not in an in-your-face kind of way. Most Oklahomans though are quite comfortable in their religion and aren’t afraid to show it in respectable ways.
However, one of those ways seemed to really puzzle the visitor from Memphis, as the Thunder opened the matinee festivities with a pregame prayer. Horrors! How dare the Thunder offer up a prayer for player safety and sportsmanship.
It seemed to make the Memphis visitor unusually uncomfortable.
But he was just getting started. He proceeded to rip OKC fans as having “zero basketball IQ.” And what did he base this on? Well, he just couldn’t understand why he heard no fans yelling “that someone took a bad shot, missed an open cutter or that Scott Brooks should take someone out of the game.” Because, as is well-known and established, such boorish fan behavior usually rectifies those matters.
He was further vexed Thunder fans only booed twice, once when Zach Randolph was introduced and later when OKC’s Nick Collison was hit with a technical.
He also seemed genuinely disappointed that there was a lack of swearing directed at him or his team. In fact, he thought it amusing that when he and his cohorts yelled “TOOONY” after Tony Allen scored, that someone nearby responded “stinks,” remarking “this was the kind of crowd we were dealing with.” Yeah, most people hate it when they attend a game and aren’t subjected to some loudmouth swearing like a drunken sailor in front of kids at a Sunday afternoon contest. Indeed, what kind of fans are these anyway?
Our young Grizzlies fan went on to chortle about the fans being instructed to sit down by the “storm chasers” after OKC scored its first points (for those who haven’t been to games, Thunder fans stay on their feet until OKC scores its first points) after opening the game with a 7-0 Memphis run. He again was perplexed by the fact that maybe this was done to show some courtesy to other fans. Yep, those damned civil OKC fans, once again clearly not understanding the rules of rude NBA fandom.
As he prattled on, he made snarky comments about noise being artificially pumped in over the Chesapeake Energy Arena PA system, denouncing OKC’s reputation as “Loud City” and then most puzzlingly, criticized OKC fans for cheering loudly whenever Kevin Durant scored.
In his world, it was “inappropriate” when the team is down and “playing flat” to “cheer wildly” when Durant hits a “routine 10-foot jumper.” It showed a “lack of big-picture understanding.” Yep, don’t want to cheer on your team and encourage them. Maybe just swear at them and yell at the coach.
He took the usual shots at OKC fans being spoiled, not having endured years of futility. Most ironically, he lamented the fans have not had to endure 23-win seasons. For the record, OKC finished 23-59 a year after moving from Seattle. Oops.
Also, just for the record, it’s not like the Grizzlies are a franchise steeped in NBA tradition either, having only been in the NBA since 2001 after the franchise moved from Vancouver. So, spare us the “long-suffering” angle.
The unfortunate bottom line was another jab at Oklahomans not being worldly. That is, if worldly means being, rude, crude and insufferable. If that’s the case, thankfully Oklahomans have a long way to go to reach such a lofty cosmopolitan status.
And that’s just fine.
There is a different culture and way of life in Oklahoma — even Oklahoma City — that many folks from larger metropolitan areas cannot necessarily fully grasp.
Trust me, it can be a shock to the system. It takes a little time to appreciate what Oklahoma has to offer in that regard, and yes, that can mean things like learning to be patient at traffic lights where a green light sometimes seems to be a mere suggestion to proceed at one’s leisure.
Sure, Oklahoma has its issues and rough spots, but there is a certain level of respect for others that is noticeably lacking in many places around the country. No, Oklahoma is not a panacea of civility, but it’s not a backwater dive either.
Memphis and the rest of NBA’s fandom can learn from Thunder fans. It’s not about crude, boorish behavior, it’s about supporting your team and knowing that if someone is rooting for another team, that does not make them sub-human targets of derision. Here, they still get treated with respect.
Don’t misunderstand. Oklahoma fans want their teams to win as much as anybody, just not at the cost of what makes them Oklahomans at heart.
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.