OKLAHOMA CITY — Thirty-two home games. Thirty-two sellouts.
Capacity crowds are standard this year at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the 581-thousand-square-foot home to the reigning Western Conference champs, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
And it’s all for good reason. If you don’t have an NBA arena bucket list, you should.
If you do, “The Peake,” as its affectionately known, should be at the top of the heap.
It’s moniker is simply Loud City. What “The Peake” lacks in history (opened in 2002), it makes up for in a rabid, decibel-driven fan base that comes out 18,203 strong every time the Thunder hold court.
Loud City currently shares fifth place with Boston for 2012-13 attendance percentage at a perfect 100%. Apparently, you can sell more tickets than seats at some venues. And you thought KD was not nice?
But this year is no fluke. After selling out their final 14 games to close out the 2010-11 campaign, the Thunder registered home-game sellouts for all 33 contests during the condensed 2011-12 season.
Local loyalists are intensely supportive of their franchise, giving The Thunderdome a college-like vibe and creating a steady X-factor for visiting teams to reckon with. The Boston Celtics’ Avery Bradley, a former Texas Longhorn, would attest to this on Sunday before tip-off.
“It’s loud; it’s kind of like a college atmosphere,” Bradley said. “You can just feel it. The fans are so intense here. They’re so in love with the Thunder. For it to be like a college game, that’s the best atmosphere.”
Kevin Martin, who hooped at Western Carolina University, disagrees for obvious reasons. “My college arena only held 5,000 people,” Martin stated. “So you can’t really compare it to that. But It’s better than a college crowd; there’s nothing you can really say until you play here.”
So what gives?
“It reminds me of my early years in Sacramento, where fans are just so passionate about basketball,” Martin continued. “The NBA team here’s really the only show in town, so fans are excited to come here and root for you.”
Speaking of shows, a top-notch bucket list arena wouldn’t be capable of trumping its competition without a ubiquitous, face-of-the-fan-base character. For Oklahoma City, that oddball is Garrett Haviland, a rotund and rowdy super supporter who goes by the nickname “Thundor.”
Clad in a belly shirt, Mexican wrestler’s mask and pair of nipple tassles, the bullhorn-bearing heckler is omnipresent on the baseline when opposing teams are shooting at the charity stripe. His go-to taunt? “Miss it!” Trust us; it’s louder and more obnoxious than you think.
When Haviland’s not deliberately distracting the opposing team, official Thunder mascot Rumble the Bison takes over that chore to engage his own fans.
The 2009 NBA Mascot of Year award winner opens each game by descending from the ceiling on a rope, followed by waving the Thunder flag and then pounding a base drum at center court to hype up starting lineup announcements.
In case you’re wondering, the anthropomorphic bison’s name is derived from the sound that thunder makes. How fitting.
To complement the mascot and dead-ball entertainment, The Peake’s amenities include a state-of-the-art scoreboard, an updated main concourse with new concession stands, a new Sunset Lounge on the Club Level and a first-class courtside club.
Did we mention you can buy lottery tickets?
The only downside to the experience were the persistent music and manufactured sounds that complement nearly every possession. This isn’t The Rucker, nor should it pretend to be. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s superhuman exploits don’t need accompanying beats as the crowd’s organically immersed in the game.
But, we’re grasping at straws here to find faults.
We’ll leave to Hasheem Thabeet, a tall man with a few words, to sum it up adequately.
“It’s, it’s electrifying.”
Peter Robert Casey specializes managing and growing online basketball communities, and is a self-described arena junkie. Follow him on Twitter: @Peter_R_Casey