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Flagrant fouls

How (not) to watch the 2018-19 Thunder basketball season

There are members of my family—people who fed me when I couldn’t keep formula from dribbling out of my mouth, who witnessed my baptism, who will probably come and drink beers and tell in-jokes at my wedding next year—whose company I refuse to join to watch Oklahoma City Thunder basketball.

It’s a matter of emotional preservation. I got heavily invested in the team the moment they relocated from Seattle, and doubled down when I lived in Oklahoma City from 2012 to 2016. It’s landed me in a delicate state where I’m unable to suffer shit takes on my precious baby boys. 

I took the 2012 Finals result hard, and Kevin Durant’s defection much harder. When Dion Waiters and his fondness for contested, 22-foot mid-range jumpers became the laughing stock of NBA Twitter, I bought real estate on Waiters Island. A babyfaced, 20-year-old Steven Adams showed up at my coffee shop wearing flip-flops in a snowstorm shortly before his rookie season started. That was when I knew I’d take a bullet for him like he was my own, very large, son.

What I’m saying is I’ve grown affectionate of the enormous men who play basketball on my TV, to the point that I can’t abide the hacky, small-talk complaining that Okies— conditioned by decades of ESPN and college football talk radio—love to indulge. “We got hosed on that foul call.” “Melo isn’t worth what we paid him.” “Russ should shoot less from three.”

Please. It’s not that it’s untrue. It’s that we’ve all heard it before.

So, rather than parrot the opinions of professional talking dinguses like Skip Bayless (who you might recall got caught a few years back exaggerating his production at backup point guard for his OKC high school basketball team, when he wasn’t busy trolling LeBron James on ESPN) why not talk like somebody who gives a damn?

A better world is not only possible, it’s accessible via Wi-Fi. NBA Twitter has loosened me from the confines of bad sports talk over the length of the Thunder’s existence. My media diet shifted away from horserace league punditry to the microblogging platform’s unfiltered, never-ending chatter, where one’s online performance may range from the abstract and goofball to steely-eyed insight.

Conversely, I’ve found that in-person conversations are much more likely to yield the usual dull tropes about the Thunder, most of which were cooked up seasons ago by some awful pundit, only to get reheated and chewed to gristle year after year by gormless fans who dwell on the bottom line of winning championships. With the Thunder’s preseason game against the Atlanta Hawks coming up at the BOK Center on Oct. 7, here are a few phrases to avoid, lest you become a similar such bore upon your friends and loved ones.

“You take the good and the bad with Russ.”

Well, duh. When you hang your whole franchise on a player, that’s kinda how it works. You can’t trade him out for another superstar on nights when he kamikazes straight into the teeth of the defense and comes up empty. Of course you take the good and the bad with Russell Westbrook III, a triple-double made human who regularly out-rebounds starting NBA big men and would rather chug battery acid than lose a basketball game. His bad is still pretty damn good.

“André Roberson’s shooting should keep him on the bench.”

You don’t have to know much about basketball to know that good shooting is super important. Shots go in or they don’t. It’s readily apparent who is and isn’t a good shooter, which is why armchair pundits tend to overvalue it.

The truth is that plenty of NBA players make long, storied careers doing everything that they can—flitting around screens like a ballet dancer, leaping to heights that are off-limits even to many of their professional athlete teammates, and sniffing out opposing offensive gambits executed at warp speed—to prevent opponents from making shots. André Roberson is one of them.

The Thunder’s team defensive rating fell off a cliff midway through last season when he got injured and never climbed back up. So, sure, Roberson may make only one of every four of the three-pointers that he always looks so regretful shooting, but a player capable of effectively guarding as many positions as he does isn’t just sitting at home waiting for an NBA team to call him up.

“We need a big three to win a championship.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love for the Thunder to win the NBA Championship. But the Warriors’ bloodless, shameless roster-loading has watered it down to the point that pinning your hopes to it feels corny. And who picked the number three anyway?

And one last thing: Please stop complaining about an imbalance of foul calls. The NBA isn’t a nonprofit. More basketball and drama means money, so yes, of course referees are going to lengthen playoff series and favor superstars. Go read a superhero comic if you’re looking for justice. Thunder basketball will be here waiting for you when you grow up.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Atlanta Hawks
Sun., Oct. 7, 2 p.m., $16+
BOK Center, bokcenter.com

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