Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
11/29/2006 02:16:00 PM
My Sportsman: Oklahoma City
Oklahoma City embraced the displaced Hornets, but it may soon be without a major-league franchise again.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images
By Richard Deitsch
All of us who live and work in Manhattan are spoiled. Head north to the Bronx and you can catch a baseball team with a payroll equal to the GDP of Belarus. Queens features the plucky Mets. The Jets, Giants and Devils are a half-hour bus ride away in Soprano country while the Knicks and the Rangers are within walking distance of any midtown office. Even Long Island has its own major-league hockey team. Professional sports are as plentiful as taxis around here. And we take it all for granted, as if major-league sports are an inalienable right of every New Yorker.
Which is why I took note of Oklahoma City this year. One of the best stories in sports emerged from one of worst disasters we've endured. In the aftermath of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the NBA's New Orleans franchise was temporarily displaced more than 700 miles away to Oklahoma City. It was a lousy way to fulfill a decadelong dream: The NBA was the first major sports league to place a team in the city.
Adopting the team as their own, Oklahoma City sold out 18 games (out of 36) at the Ford Center. So boisterous was the upper bowl of the arena the locals named it Loud City. The fans had an actual impact on the game. Just ask the players. "The crowd last year won at least eight to 10 games for us," said Hornets point guard Chris Paul. "Just the way they rallied behind us and pushed us and motivated us."
Those fans get my vote for Sportsmen of the Year because they remind us of the joy and pleasure of being a part of something larger than ourselves. Sure, Hornets owner George Shinn ultimately benefits from such support but the fans who adopted the Hornets as their own also gained something valuable: They changed the perception of how outsiders view their prairie city.
Last season the Hornets finished 11th in the 30-team NBA in home attendance, a remarkable feat for a franchise located the 43rd largest market in the U.S. This year the club sold 12,000 season tickets, about 500 more than last season. As SI's Chris Mannix reported last month, the franchise procured an unprecedented five seven-figure presenting sponsors this season. The Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers, for example, do not have any.
The Hornets will play 35 games in Oklahoma City and six in New Orleans this season. The plan is for the team to return fulltime to New Orleans for the 2007-08 schedule. So far the NBA says there will be no expansion and the prospect of another team relocating is usually more talk than fact.
The hard truth is Oklahoma City may soon be without a major league franchise. But it's clearly a first-class town. So I'll repeat what I wrote back in February because it's even more true today: For years, Oklahoma City has craved a reputation as a major-league city.
As a resident of a city "desperately" seeking a major-league franchise (Las Vegas), I give Oklahoma City residents major kudos for supporting the Hornets. If they had moved the team to Vegas instead, attendance at their games would have been tepid at best, and their achievements noted on page 14 of the sports page. I pray that if the NBA ever does expand that OK-C, not LV, gets the nod, regardless of the bleatings of our drunken mayor. Pro Sports franchises here ? As a life-long resident, I give any franchise moving here a five year run before they move on to a Real sports town. Like, say, Oklahoma City.
great choice. I don't have any direct ties to new orleans, but i couldn't help but admire the oklahome city fans for rising above katrina and embracing the hornets. I couldn't help but hope that the hornets would succeed. This year, lets hope the saints go all the way.
Richard, thanks for your kind comments about Oklahoma City and our support for the Hornets. Frankly, the support shown by the public and business community surprised many residents of the Oklahoma City metro area - including me. This second year is bittersweet, knowing that the Hornets will soon be returning to their home in New Orleans. We have come to know the players, coaches, and owner very well in the past year and wish them continued success in the Big Easy. We hope that everyone associated with the Hornets enjoyed their time here and found us to be hospitable. Hopefully, someone will decide that Oklahoma City can support a pro franchise based on our experience with the Hornets.