Open letter from an OKC Thunder fan: The night I saw Kobe

APRIL 30: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots a jump shot over Russell Westbrook #0 of the OKC Thunder in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
APRIL 30: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots a jump shot over Russell Westbrook #0 of the OKC Thunder in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images) /

In April 2010, Kobe Bryant legitimized The OKC Thunder. Dustin McGowen looks at his impact on that Spring night.

I’m new here at Thunderous Intentions, but not to the OKC Thunder. I’ve seen tons of games and lived through many ups and downs.

Oklahoma City’s basketball team experienced the Draft Lottery and the NBA Finals. Kevin Durant arrived in the Sooner State like a tornado and left like a serpent. Russell Westbrook delighted us with triple-doubles and endears us now from afar with James Harden in Houston. Even Nick Collison‘s legendary number four now lives in the rafters as Mr. Thunder owns the only retired jersey at The Peake. Obviously today isn’t about any of them.

Kobe Bryant died today.

This news has not just broken Twitter, it’s made me literally grab my kids and hug them. Kobe was so young, he had seemingly only just left the NBA and had just begun what I thought would be a half-century of NBA observation and commentary. I had imagined him someday on Inside the NBA as a guest of Charles Barkley to troll Shaquille O’Neal or being involved in politics later in life. Neither will happen now.

I’m trying to mentally work through this, and the only thing I thought to do was open my computer and talk about the one night I saw Kobe play live. So, here it goes.

April 22, 2010, was a huge night in OKC basketball history. The OKC Thunder were scheduled to have their first-ever playoff game in their new home (then called the Ford Center). As the eighth seed, they were up against the Los Angeles Lakers, who came into the playoffs as the overwhelming favorite to win the title.

I waited in line for three full hours to snag some Loud City seats for this game. I was so excited to see our young stars play against the best in the league.

Upon getting to the game that night, I realized that the energy had completely changed in the Thunderdome from previous visits. For starters, every seat had a free shirt on it.

I excitedly put mine on and watched the jumbotron as the in-game entertainment team was attempting to peer pressure fans into putting the tees on via video-shaming.

There was also a pregame concert scheduled inside, along with activities and extra seating out on Reno Avenue. OKC had been dressed up for national TV as well, with giant posters up all over downtown and new banners in Loud City.

The game began at a fever pitch with every fan in attendance clapping along in their aforementioned free shirts. I have never been inside a louder arena before or since. My head was pounding as the teams got into a rhythm. As a younger  Royce Young (writing at the time for his TrueHoop blog Daily Thunder) mentions here,

"I’ve never, ever, ever heard anything that loud. The crowd stood the ENTIRE fourth quarter. Not just one section. Everybody. Even Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon. Even the suite holders. Even the rich folk sitting on the floor. Everyone was up. And we didn’t chant “dee-fense” one time. Nope. We went the college route and did the “MAKE LOUD NOISE WHILE THEY HAVE IT” routine. I don’t know if anything will ever top it."

Kobe was so good that night. In this box score,  you can see his stat line. In that first half, I thought he was going for 100. He was completely in control. He was finding his teammates, scoring at will and showing all in attendance that he was the best player in the city.

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When we came back after a halftime break, we saw a completely different game, which included this. I remember that frenetic comeback, but I also remember never thinking the OKC Thunder was going to win until the final buzzer because of Kobe.

It’s hard to quantify how good he was, the impact he had on a game and that series in particular. The Lakers ended up winning the series four games to two.

Kobe was so good that he won Finals MVP in 2010. On his way there, he made stars of KD, Russ,  Harden, and Serge that April evening. Our young quartet had a banner night, a grand debutante ball of sorts to the national NBA audience.

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The night I saw him, Kobe was unstoppable. Until he wasn’t. That’s how life is. Everything is certain until it’s not.

Goodbye Kobe. Rest in peace.