The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

October 6, 2013

Why not 'Thunder Up' in Enid?

ENID, Okla. — Picture this: Kevin Durant drives the lane and delivers a thundering dunk. Russell Westbrook drills a deep three off a fast break following a Serge Ibaka defensive rebound … at the Enid Event Center. Why not?

“It’s not beyond the realm of possibility,” said Enid Event Center general manager Keller Taylor when asked about whether the Enid Event Center has contemplated hosting a future Thunder preseason game. It’s an intriguing idea that may not seem as far-fetched as one may think.

Last season, the Thunder played the Houston Rockets in a preseason game way down in the Rio Grande in Hildago, Texas, a town with a population of under 12,000 and an arena that seats 6,800. This season, the Thunder are traveling as far as Turkey and England in the preseason with other games in Tulsa and Wichita as the NBA and the Thunder extend their brand internationally and to closer communities that are within the Thunder’s marketing footprint.

Taylor said he has approached the Thunder in the past about bringing the team in for a community practice and was certainly intrigued by the suggestion of bringing the Thunder to Enid. “I have made some contact (with the Thunder) about hosting something,” he said. “We are in their head and on their radar. It would be a great fit. The contact with the Thunder has been positive.” Taylor said it has been about a year since he last talked to Thunder officials, but said he plans to follow up and inquire further.

Now, before anyone scoffs at the idea of bringing an NBA game to an arena the size of the sparkling new Enid Event Center, or a city the size of Enid, keep in mind that it already is being done by other teams that are bringing their product to smaller cities within their marketing target group.

This month, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Minnesota Timberwolves will play a preseason game in Sioux Falls, S.D., at the Sanford Pentagon, which seats 3,100, and the Charlotte Bobcats and Cleveland Cavaliers will tangle at the 3,500-seat Canton Civic Center in Canton, OH. Both are similar in size to the Enid Event Center, which seats 3,400 for basketball.

Enid has shown itself to be a bit of a hotbed for Thunder fandom. Enid is home to several Thunder season ticketholders and not to mention a few big-money suite holders. But it is not limited to big money supporters as witnessed by the Thunder’s championship series run in 2012 when the games were televised on the big screen at David Allen Memorial Ballpark and fans watched picnic style on the outfield grass.

Of course, seeing is believing, and the Thunder likely would want to see what the Enid Event Center can offer for basketball. The facility, which already has hosted several concerts and other events, will host its first taste of real basketball competition when Enid High School begins play later this year at its new hoops home. The facility also will be hosting the Harlem Globetrotters for the first time in April, likely also a good proving ground.

“Once we get basketball going, it would be nice to have them (Thunder officials) come down and see what we have to offer and what kind of crowds we get,” Taylor said.

Something else the Enid Event Center has going in its favor is the fact it is managed by Global Spectrum, which also manages the 4,500-seat SpiritBank Event Center in Tulsa, home to the Tulsa 66ers, the NBA’s Developmental League affiliate of the Thunder. So, the Thunder already are familiar with what Global Spectrum has to offer.

Taylor also indicated the Enid Event Center is working to bringing in other basketball events. He said they had previously bid last year on bringing the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Region II basketball playoffs to the center. That event has been hosted by Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee for the past 18 years, and while Enid didn’t win the bid, Taylor said he recently learned OBU will be unable to host the Region II (which includes Northern Oklahoma College Enid) finals in 2014 and would be interested in bidding for it.

In addition, there is a good chance the facility may land the NJCAA national volleyball tournament, and there have been talks with the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association about bringing high school basketball playoffs to the facility.

It would be a nice outreach for the Thunder to bring a game to Enid. It would offer fans, who may not be able to make the trek to OKC, a chance to see their hoop heroes up close and personal in an intimate, yet top-notch, facility and for the Thunder to see firsthand their fan base in Enid.

If Thunder brass can be convinced to check out the facility during a hoops game, hopefully with the stands full, it may be a Kevin Durant-like slam dunk decision.

Ruthenberg is sports editor at theNews & Eagle. Contact him at daver@enidnews.com.

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