Friday, February 15, 2013

Miami Heat 110 at Oklahoma City Thunder 100 - February 14, 2013

After leaving one transplant NBA town, I drove 7 hours west to another, arriving in Oklahoma City for the highlight game of the trip. The defending champion Miami Heat were in town to face the Thunder. For those of you that recall, I saw the championship game in June last year, so I was looking forward to witnessing the rematch. Fortunately, I would be reviewing the Chesapeake Energy Arena for Stadium Journey and was able to get a media credential for this game, saving me the hassle of looking for a ticket on the street.

Chesapeake Energy Arena

Located in the historic Bricktown District, the Chesapeake Energy Arena was opened in 2002 when it was known as the Ford Center. Since that time, it has hosted two NBA teams: the temporarily relocated New Orleans Hornets from 2005-07 and then the permanently relocated Seattle Super Sonics, who became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008. The current name was agreed to in 2011 as part of a 12-year agreement with the Chesapeake Energy Corporation.
There is limited parking available in the Cox Convention Center but most fans seem to find parking slightly further afield. I saw one lot for $20 and other for $5 as well as some free street parking, so drive around if you get there early enough.

Just outside the northeast corner is a statue that commemorates the 1989 Olympic Festival that was organized by Thunder owner Clay Bennett, then a 29-year-old upstart. The event brought OKC to national attention and was the first step in the city becoming a sports travel destination.

When they are available, tickets are reasonably priced, with the best value being balcony seats going for $45. There is a single separate row called premium balcony at $80, but the advantages are not quite worth the extra cash. Avoid lower deck corner seats though as the angles are not good. I should note that on the TicketMaster site, there is a disclaimer that tickets are only available to residents of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas, so travelers might be forced to resort to the secondary market.

There are several entrances into the stadium. When I first stepped inside, I was met with the delicious aroma of cinnamon, and as I made my way around the lower concourse, I saw dozens of distinct food offerings. Just a taste of what is available: gourmet candy such as chocolate espresso beans and yogurt raisins, (2 bags for $6); Philly cheesesteak ($6.50); a variety of wraps for $7, baked potatoes with various toppings at $7.50, and even a $4 pasta salad. Of course, the usual burgers and dogs were also present, giving you far more options than you could enjoy in a single game. There's even a couple of sitdown restaurants including another Old No. 7 Club as well as the Center Court Grill.

The stadium has a relatively small footprint and concourses can be busy but not overly crowded. There are a number of things to see on the lower level, with the Jim Thorpe Association Gallery the most interesting. The JTA is a local civic and charity organisation that is heavily involved in the sports scene. This small display includes some historical notes on Native American history from the area as well as some information on Thorpe himself. Take the time to check it out.

There is also a Spirit Zone on each level where you can get face tattoos or have caricatures of yourself drawn. Naturally this is more appealing to the kids.

The upper deck has its own moniker: Loud City. This is not inaccurate; the fans up here were very raucous as the game got underway, although as the Thunder fell further and further behind they lost some of their voice. I love this sign below - the exact number of upper bowl seats.

The stadium was built without luxury boxes at first, as there was no guarantee of an NHL or NBA team moving there, but once the Thunder arrived, suites were added. The advantage of this setup is that there is no separate club level, rather the club seats are separated from those below them by a small wall, as you can see in the below shot. This keeps Loud City close to the action, so the fans there have a bigger impact on the game than they might in other venues.

A final note on the fans here. Obviously this was the showcase game of the season and the fans responded. As the game started, fans remained standing and cheering until the first Thunder points. Even when the outcome was decided, most fans remained to watch the rest of the game. I would say that the key feelings I got from here were fun and friendly; it really seems like fans are still involved in the honeymoon phase with their team.

Overall, Chesapeake Energy Arena is a great place to watch basketball. Passionate fans, great food and beverage options, and a superb location make a trip to OKC a must for any sports traveler.

The Game

Miami won 110-100. So you might think that it was a close game and the Heat pulled away at the end. You would be wrong. This battle was over in the first quarter. With the score tied at 7, Miami went on a 21-6 run, with LeBron James getting 8 of those points. Just as this run ended, Kevin Durant went up for a rebound and landed awkwardly, causing a stoppage and much fretfulness among the faithful.

Fortunately, Durant was none the worse for wear, but the Thunder had been silenced by Miami's all-around attack as the first period ended 32-17. The Heat won the second and third quarters by 2 points each to take a 19-point lead into the final frame. By now, the question was whether LeBron would shoot 60% to keep his NBA record six-game streak of scoring 30 points and shooting better than 60% alive. He was 10/17 (58.8%) for 30 points, so he just had to go 2/3 and he would clinch it.

He did even better, going 4/6 so that, with just over a minute to go, he was 14/23 (60.8%). Clearly though, James had no interest in such records as he tossed up a long 3-pointer that missed, causing him to finish 14/24 (58.3%). Oh no, the streak was over! In all seriousness though, think these media-generated arbitrary stat streaks (30 points, 60%) are meaningless. Why not 28 points and 58%?

It was disappointing that the game wasn't closer, but at the same point it is great to see the best player on the planet at the top of his game. LeBron James was simply dominant, shooting at will over any defender the Thunder put on him.

Despite the loss, OKC still has a slightly better record than Miami (39-14 to 36-14) as the league enters the All-Star break. There's a good chance these teams will meet again in the final; if so, I hope the Thunder have some method of stopping LBJ lest it be another blowout.

The Thunder mascot is Rumble the Bison. That's him below banging a drum to get the fans going before the game while James walks by, oblivious.

It was Valentine's Day and the Thunder Girls were handing out Hershey Kisses before the game. As well, there were two marriage proposals, one of which seemed to embarrass the recipient. Ladies, if you want to avoid having a public proposal at a sporting event, don't go to a game on Valentine's Day!

Next Up

Speaking of the All-Star break, I will be in Houston on Sunday after a change of plans. No tickets, but I'll head downtown to soak up some atmosphere. Before that, I'll stop for a couple of days in Austin, capital of the Lone Star State. Tonight I will see the Texas Stars, Dallas' AHL affiliate, hosting the Oklahoma City Barons. Tomorrow is college baseball as the Texas Longhorns host Sacramento State.

As for those changed plans, I am no longer going to New Orleans. The UNO Privateers moved their Monday game from Lakefront Arena to a secondary venue, which I don't want to see. So I'm going to avoid driving the 700 miles there and back and spend more time in Houston. I'm adding a college baseball game between Stanford and Rice on Sunday afternoon and a college basketball game at Texas Southern Monday night before heading up to College Station to see a mid-week college baseball game on Tuesday evening. As always, keep checking back for updates on how the trip is going.



1 comment:

  1. "The stadium was built without luxury boxes at first, as there was no guarantee of an NHL or NBA team moving there, but once the Thunder arrived, suites were added. The advantage of this setup is that there is no separate club level, rather the club seats are separated from those below them by a small wall, as you can see in the below shot."

    Ford Center was built with about 50 suites and 3,000 club seats, which were upgraded when the new premium seating was added.