Growing up in the ’90s, I found myself falling in love with professional basketball at the end of Michael Jordan’s career and the beginning of Kobe Bryant’s. For over a decade, the Black Mamba was my favorite player, and despite living in Oklahoma, I worked hard to try to watch the Lakers any time they were on national television. In 2005, the New Orleans Hornets began their two-year tenure in OKC, and while it was exciting, it didn’t push me over the edge, mostly because I knew they’d be headed back to NOLA eventually.
Then in 2008, the Seattle Supersonics were relocated to the 405, and I was thrilled. For over a decade now, I’ve enjoyed attending Thunder games as often as possible. I’ve been in the building for some of the most important moments in NBA history, including Kobe Bryant’s final road game of his career (a 33-point blowout win for the Thunder in 2016) and Russell Westbrook’s 42nd triple-double of the 2016-17 season.
Now, as the Thunder begins their 14th season, I am finally a season-ticket holder. The Thunder hasn’t had fans in the building since March of 2019, and I for one could not be more excited. Yes, it’s almost guaranteed to be another tank season, and I’m more likely to be in the building for a loss than a win, but I’m still pumped. The NBA announced the full schedule for the 2021-22 season Friday afternoon, so without further ado, here are the 10 games that I’m looking forward to attending the most (in chronological order):
Opening night: October 24th, Philadelphia 76ers, 6 PM
As I already pointed out, the Thunder has not had fans in the building for a year a half now, so just getting to go to a game has me psyched. Yes, I plan on being in the Paycom Center (still weird calling it that) for the first preseason game against the Charlotte Hornets, but Opening Night is likely going to be quite the scene.
The Thunder organization knows how to throw a party, and Opening Night is typically a sight to see. After such a long absence, I anticipate this is going to be a night for Thunder fans to remember.
Still Salty: October 26th, Golden State Warriors, 7 PM
Not too long ago, the Thunder had developed quite the rivalry with the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately, the roster shakeup in OKC has allowed the matchups to lose some of that flavor, but I’m still extremely salty about the 2015 Western Conference Finals, Kevin Durant’s departure for greener grass, and the good luck that the Warriors seem to be having as they prepare for the future.
Again, I don’t anticipate that we will win very many games this season, and we probably won’t win this one, but that doesn’t change the fact that I still want to boo Steph Curry and Draymond Green when they set foot on our court.
Russell In the House: October 27th, Los Angeles Lakers, 7 PM
It’s barely been two years since Russell Westbrook requested a trade out of Oklahoma City, signaling a true extinction of the foundational roster of the Thunder, but this season will mark his third team since leaving.
As mentioned earlier, I was a huge Los Angeles Lakers fan back in the late ’90s and 2000s, but I have no love for them at all, particularly since Kobe Bryant’s retirement in 2015. Still, the thought that Russell Westbrook has a real chance to get a ring now that he’s playing alongside Lebron James, Anthony Davis, and a roster full of seasoned veterans gets me excited on his behalf. As usual, I can’t wait to see him play basketball, even if it is for another team.
The Exes: November 14th, Brooklyn Nets, 6 PM
The Brooklyn Nets were considered the favorite to win the NBA Finals last season, particularly once they acquired James Harden, and they are one of the front runners to win it in 2022. Injuries got in the way of that last time, and I think that will continue to be their achilles heel—no pun intended—but nevertheless, the Thunder’s matchup with a bunch of former OKC players should be interesting.
At one point last season, it was almost comical at how many former Thunder players the Nets had on their roster. As of now, there are just 3: Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Last season they had those 3 plus Jeff Green and Andre Roberson for a short while.
I still feel some type of way about Kevin Durant, so I always look forward to playing him, even if it very likely will end in an embarrassing blowout for us.
A Debt of Gratitude: December 18th, Los Angeles Clippers, 7 PM
The Clippers are a great example of an attempt to go all in only to come up short. Two seasons in a row now the Clips have done everything in their power to put together a roster to win a championship, but unfortunately for them, they’ve had their share of injuries and even a little bad luck.
Last season looked like they had started to put some things together, but once Kawhi Leonard went down with what turned out to be a torn ACL, there was pretty much nothing that Paul George could do to carry his team forward in the postseason.
This season could be a little bumpy for the Clippers as Kawhi Leonard is likely going to miss all of it, but again, seeing a former Thunder star like Paul George in the building always adds to the fireworks of a regular season game.
NYE: December 31st, New York Knicks, 7 PM
New Year’s Eve basketball is a tradition in Oklahoma City, and I am glad to see that continue for yet another season. The New York Knicks should be considered a dark horse in the Eastern Conference, and who knows, maybe the Thunder can pull off a miracle as we headed into 2022.
CP3’s return: February 24th, Phoenix Suns, 7 PM
Two years ago Chris Paul was traded to Oklahoma City in exchange for Russell Westbrook. I was sick to my stomach, not just because Russ was leaving, but because I hated CP3. I prayed he would never played a game in a Thunder jersey. After a few months, though, my tone changed, and I made a public apology (I called it an a-Paul-ogy), and I’ve loved the Point God ever since.
Chris Paul didn’t get a true celebration of his return in OKC last season, since we had no fans in the stands, so I look forward to giving him a standing ovation as he’s welcomed back to the city where he started his career when he played with the New Orleans Hornets as a rookie.
Steve-o’s Back: March 13th, Memphis, Grizzlies, 6 PM
Steven Adams remains as one of the most beloved players in Thunder history. Fans were often split about his role on the team, his injury history, and his inconsistency at times to produce. Still, his love for our city and his efforts on the court should never be questioned, so when he was traded away to the New Orleans Pelicans last season, I took it a little hard. Since then, he’s been traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, where I believe he will settle in nicely.
Again, since we did not have fans in the stands last season, he did not get a true welcome back, and while I’m not sure if he’ll get a highlight video or anything like that, I again will find myself on my feet cheering for him as the game begins.
Also, it doesn’t hurt that we get to see Ja Morant play basketball. I like that guy.
Cade’s Homecoming (Kinda): April 1, Detroit Pistons, 7 PM
Cade Cunningham was a shoe-in as the no. 1 pick of the 2021 draft almost before he even committed to play his freshman year of college basketball at Oklahoma State. As a Cowboy fan, I loved watching him play in Stillwater, and I hope and prayed that the Thunder’s tank last season would be good enough to get us the top pick so that we could draft him.
That didn’t happen, and now he’s a Piston playing in Detroit, but it’ll still be fun to watch him return to Oklahoma. Also, the Pistons aren’t likely to be a great team, so it should make for a competitive game.
Home Finale: April 5th, Portland Trail Blazers, 7 PM
The Thunder’s final home game will be followed by 3 road games, so this matchup with the Blazers won’t be the end of the season, but it will likely feel like it. Let’s face it: there will be no playoff basketball in Oklahoma City for yet another season, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate our young team improving and developing as the season goes on.
The Thunder organization does a great job at making fans feel special, and by the time of the home finale in April, I’m sure I’ll be able to look back at my first season as ticket holder with a smile on my face.
Be sure to follow Zack Low on Twitter @ZacharyLowNBA for more Thunder updates, breakdowns, and opinions.