There was an NBA team in the mid 2000s that had a problem. Despite the solid fan support, there was a fundamental issue that needed solving: the arena. Sure, it had been renovated about a decade ago, but that wasn’t quite enough; arenas had advanced leaps and bounds since then and this particular arena was the smallest in the league. Another renovation wasn’t going to cut it: they needed a new building.
Unfortunately, the city could not come to an agreement with the team on a new arena. So, the local ownership thew their hands up and sold it to an out of town organization, and hoped for the best.
14 years later, that team, the Sonics, is now no longer in their original city of Seattle. They are now the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are about to deal with that same problem they faced in a former life.
In yesterday’s State of the City address, Mayor David Holt bought up the need for a new arena for the first time.
👀NEW ARENA FOR THE THUNDER?? OKC MAYOR HINTS AT IT
He didn’t outright say it, but in today’s State of the City address, @davidfholt hinted at the need for a new arena to help secure the NBA in OKC.
“We have non-NBA cities checking our pulse every morning.” @OKCFOX #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/JcGBEQ3JCW— Dan Snyder (@DanSnyderFOX25) July 14, 2022
Of course, this isn’t a unique problem to this franchise. Milwaukee, Detroit and Sacramento all have had to pony up for new arenas, or risk being the next team to exist only in the halls of Mitchell and Ness retro gear and fun NBA 2k throwbacks. However, this is the first time OKC has to face this particular element of survival in the NBA.
The Ford Center (now the Paycom Center) was not built for the NBA. It was a barebones project to attract concerts, circuses, pre-season games for NHL/NBA, and hopefully the first few rounds of the NCAA Tournament once and awhile. It was built on the cheap: a brick oval with dark, cave like concourses, a barebones suite level, and a modest video board. Essentially, going to any event in Oklahoma City was just about that event: park under the I-40 overpass, see your event, and hopefully get back to your car before a piece of concrete takes out your windshield.
That’s not exactly the NBA experience. So, when Oklahoma City got the Thunder, it came with a league required renovation of the arena to bring it up to being deemed simply acceptable, which was completed in Summer 2012.
Seven years later, OKC passed MAPS 4, which is a collection of projects ranging from civic works such as funding the creation of youth centers and homeless outreach programs, to construction projects like a new multi-use stadium and, you guessed it, a renovation of Paycom Center.
The renovation would revamp the video boards, add new concession options, replace hilariously outdated seats, and improve Loud City for a cool $115 million, which surpasses the original arena’s price tag of $89 million. This brings me to my point: is that really the right move?
Obviously, something needed to be done. The refresh done on the arena ten years ago has already fallen behind league standards. However, to me it feels more like kicking the can down the road, much like what Seattle did in the mid-90s. You can get away with a cheaply built six-year old arena polished up to be good enough to exist in. But now we are 20 years in. Standards have skyrocketed around the league. At some point, the Paycom Center just can’t keep up, no matter how much you slap onto it.
The day will come when the arena just isn’t enough. Of course, we aren’t at doomsday yet: the Oklahoma City Thunder have opted in to their three-year lease extension, and the renovations introduced in MAPS 4 will help keep the arena just above the line in terms of standards. The Thunder and the city has about as good a relationship as it gets and the local ownership wants to stay (possibly for fear of being run out of town).
However, Holt is right. It’s time to think about the future, right now. A new arena, built to the standards of the NBA of the future, completely resets the timeline for Oklahoma City. It locks down the NBA in OKC for the future.
The years ahead are going to be the most pivotal in the history of Thunder basketball: more than the Harden trade, more than KD leaving for Golden State, more than any of the five billion of Presti’s past or future draft picks. Unlike those, you have a choice in how this turns out if you live in OKC.
We don’t know when it will come, but the bill will come to OKC’s table one day. When it does, the city must be ready to answer the call.