She had an Oklahoma City shirt, Thunder-blue boots and a vibrant smile that was the perfect accessory to her bedazzled Oklahoma City Thunder handbag. So what if the bag was more fashion than function; it was opening night, and that means celebrating.
Talk to any Thunder fan for the past five seasons — every game is a party disguised as a basketball game. But for Igelheart and her husband, Gary, along with most of the fans, the players and a few others, Sunday’s affair was a surprise party.
Already excited to see her favorite team, Igleheart was hand-to-the-sideof-the-face surprised when she found out Russell Westbrook was in the starting lineup. “Is he really going to play?” DeAnna asked. “Oh my. That’s great. I had no idea. I thought it would be four or five more weeks. This is wonderful.”
Wonderful is having an NBA team and watching some basketball on a Sunday. This was something more than that. All-Star guard Westbrook made his season debut about a month sooner than most figured he would, and it was the best complement to a season opener anyone could have hoped for.
It was wonderful for the fans and the team. A season that a few weeks ago, even a few days ago, was seemingly without definite direction and filled with uncertainty for the first time in at least three years got a bolt of adrena line Sunday when it was announced Westbrook would be returning.
Oklahoma City’s guard, who missed all but two games of the playoffs a season ago with a knee injury and wasn’t expected back until around Christmastime, was part of the starting lineup Sunday against Phoenix and brought with him new momentum for a season that had started slowly.
“I definitely feel better about things now,” said fan Meagan Moore of Norman. “The first two games were kind of scary, so, yeah, I’m really glad he’s back.”
The Thunder started the season with a 1-1 record but struggled offensively without its starting point guard.
But now everyone feels better.
After all, this was a Thunder team that made the NBA Finals two seasons ago and won a Western Conference best 60 games last year, but the loss of Westbrook in the playoffs last April ended what looked to be a promising run. Instead, the Thunder lost in the second round of the playoffs and entered the offseason with a lot of questions.
Who would help out superstar Kevin Durant?
Can this team win without Westbrook? All were legitimate issues, and after the first two games of this year, seemed to be significant.
But that changed on Sunday. Westbrook returned, and the crowd cheered.
The Thunder has renewed hope in 2013. Durant certainly understood that; he went to the Thunder staff on Sunday afternoon and asked for Westbrook, and not himself, to be introduced last, so the crowd could drink in the moment and appreciate the idea of the team being whole again.
“I think the biggest thing, and I’ve been saying it forever, he’s a winner,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said after the game. “The guy plays the game like it’s supposed to be played. It’s not always going to be perfect, but he plays with everything he has every single night. And to me, that’s inspiring.”
Westbrook scored 21 points. He was his old self, getting to the basket and passing to teammates. The result makes for a sensational opening night.
“He encourages all of us,” guard Jeremy Lamb said. “He leads by example, and he always attacks. He is always in attack mode, putting the defense on their heels, and I think that rubbed off.”
It rubbed off on the crowd, too.
The Thunder rallied in the fourth quarter and won Sunday, a perfect ending to a perfect night.
And a perfect beginning to a special season, too.