A chance a iconography, a lore, a legendarium. A means of developing a collective memory, the memory the Lakers, Celtics, Knicks, Bulls, Niners, Packers, Cowboys, Yankees, and Red Sox have. It is ironically what the Heat have started to build: a franchise memory from its victories and the lore around them.
I was beside myself with glee when the Thunder exposed my least favorite title team (the Mavericks) for one hit wonders. I didn’t mind that they seemingly sent Kobe off the next month. I hoped (but did not believe) that they could unseat the last of a past decades’s western vanguard in the then undefeated Spurs. But as sports can do, I was pleasantly surprised. The ascension of the young, fearless, and uninhibited meant as much to me as a younger sibling as it did to me as a young person. It heralded the coming of a future, a next step, of ownership of a world once held by the old and established. I watched the 2012 NBA Finals not caring who won. The young had already won. Speed, spirit and energy had won over fear, age, smugness and bitterness. Each team had already established their chapters in their epic road to the finals. There were the foundation stories for the future books and documentaries about these new icons. As my parents told me of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and Dr J, so too would I tell my own about Kobe, Lebron, Wade, Durant, Westbrook, Bosh, and Harden. The Thunder and the Heat were each spinning a legend. It didn’t matter who won; it was all part of the bigger story. These two franchises were building collective memories.
The Thunder weren’t looking for that bigger picture. They traded Harden at the beginning of the season for money reasons, surmising that the franchise would be too poor to hold on to him without going over the luxury tax. It is somewhat difficult for anyone in the 1% to cry poor, and even harder for the heirs and natural gas barons who own the Thunder to do so. After selling out season tickets for four years straight, the Thunder let an icon, a player with value beyond his work on the court, go to line their pockets. Money cutting never won the Yankees, Lakers, Cowboys their strings of postseason victories. Why should money makers and job creators believe Oklahoma City is any different?
All these aforementioned teams did and do have a collective memory. These collective memories give franchises and the words used to name them value as proper nouns even when times are rough. They make these franchises part of people’s lives. They make the forest not the trees. They make the Celtics different from celtic, and the Yankees more than a 150 year old word for northerners. Oklahoma City might have become The Thunder. But in their iconoclasm,in getting rid of James Harden, getting rid of a part of their legendarium, they might have relegated themselves to just the Thunder. I’m going to miss them.