Nobody Believes in the Thunder
7:00 AM EST on February 15, 2012
As the NBA season nears the mid-way point, the Oklahoma City Thunder enjoy the best record in the league. In racing out to that great start, the team has been buoyed by the leagues third best scorer (Kevin Durant), third best ball thief (Russell Westbrook), third best shot blocker (Serge Ibaka), and the consensus best bench player (James Harden). They have won when it was close (winning 4 out of 5 games decided by 3 points or less), they have won in blowouts (11-4 in games decided by ten points or more), they have beaten good teams (12-4 against teams that have better than .500 winning percentages), and most importantly, they've just won (22-6, 2 1/2 games better than anyone else in the Western Conference).
Yet for some reason, the national analysts are not impressed by the team. ESPN.com's John Hollinger has the Thunder ranked sixth on his power rankings. Among the five teams with worse records than OKC he has in front of OKC is Portland whose record would not even get them in the playoffs if those started today. Similarly, the website's Marc Stein only ranks Thunder as a fringe top-5. TNT's Charles Barkley consistently downplays Oklahoma City's legitimacy as a title contender by suggesting the team relies too much on only three scorers (Durant, Westbrook, and Harden score 65.6% of the teams points). Meanwhile, Barkley has no qualms about the Miami Heat's chances despite their three stars accounting for 66.9% of their points.
The lack of respect is probably a good thing. How often to champions speak in the post-game celebration about how everyone believed in them even when the team had doubts about their abilities? I'll tell you how often: never. Regardless of who wins, the team's star always gives a shout out to those who doubted them. Thunder star Kevin Durant has already begun to bristle about nay-sayers.
In response to public euphoria about Blake Griffin's dunk over Kendrick Perkins, Durant tried to downplay the event while griping about the perceived lack of respect the media gives the team.
"I have no appreciation for it at all. It was a layup, I think...I really wasn't impressed. He finished it. So what? We've moved on...We're not an L.A. team or a Chicago team or a Miami team. All our plays get thrown under the radar."
First of all, Durant was completely wrong in everything he said. Griffin's dunk was incredible. It deserves all the accolades it has received. Also, the Thunder are media darlings. During the lockout, Durant dominated the press cycles despite playing against street ball players instead of professionals, and sometimes against dudes just hanging out at gas stations.
That said, I love what Durant's tirade means. This is not a team that is caught up in the good press clippings. A million good words could be written about them, but those aren't the words they commit to memory. They care more about the opinions of the guys who look past the statistics that matter (win/loss record) to uncover some secret data that means something only to them (whatever the crap John Hollinger makes up to appear smart). They are not satiated by the thousands of fans around Oklahoma who believe they are the best team in the league, but buoyed by a hall of fame loudmouth cherry picking his criticisms for the sake of being critical.
That's what motivates championship teams.
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