I gave up following professional basketball nearly ten years ago. Why? I suffered a heartbreak that still pinches whenever the memory is dredged up.
May 26, 2002.
The Sacramento Kings – my home team – were closer than they’d ever been to the championship round. They were leading the hated Lakers 2-1 in the series, and were seconds away from a coveted third win. I was tied to that game in every conceivable way; not just hoping we would finally pull one out, but already anticipating how over-the-top our victory celebrations would be.
Then out of nowhere, Robert Horry landed a clench three (after the buzzer, which everyone but a Laker fan will admit to) and stole the win. That shot turned the tide not only on that game, but also on the momentum of the Kings rise from obscurity into stardom. It was like losing a loved one. A loss I wouldn’t endure again by choice.
So why involve myself now? Why peek around the corner and watch snippets of the Thunder/Laker games and dare excite myself over the possibility that the Thunder may actually do this? Especially when it looks all too familiar: the underdog team, the high stakes…Kobe.
Because the Thunder represent that much underrated, beautiful state where I was born and spent my summers. Because I know when I cheer for them, I’m cheering with thousands of Oklahoma natives, and Natives, who have long endured the Okie, Okie Doke, and Okie from Muskogee jokes. And because they are a reincarnation of the hopes I had for that team in small town California.
While I’m not back to buying season tickets, donning sports regalia, collecting programs and ticket stubs, and shouting encouragements from the stands, this Oklahoma native has pitched her flag. I stand with the roaring Thunder fans cheering at this very moment in the arena: Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!