This past Monday Independence Day celebrations brought lots of fireworks around the country, but none bigger than the pyrotechnics that occurred right here in Oklahoma City, when our NBA franchise took a gut punch from our favorite son when he opted for the West Coast and a shortcut to a cheap piece of jewelry. Our city and State are shocked and reeling as we try to pick up the pieces of a franchise that only weeks ago was two minutes away from a return to the NBA Finals and a date with King James. While the rest of the nation will remember July 4th for its barbeque and sparklers, in Oklahoma July 4th, 2016 will live in infamy as our Pearl Harbor, the day KD bombed the franchise.
For those of you not familiar with the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder is the only professional sports team in the State of Oklahoma, and since its initial season just eight years ago, has become our sacred treasure. We are known for our loyal fan base, an always sold out and loud crowd (what else is there to do on a cold winter night in Oklahoma?), and a front office that has a real gift of recognizing and developing raw talent. James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, and most recently Steven Adams are just of a few of the stars who got their start here. But most of all, the Thunder are known for two mega-stars who have been the face and life of our organization- Russell Westbrook, the fastest man on earth with a basketball, and Kevin Durant, or KD as he is known in these parts.
On Monday morning KD, who became a free agent at the end of the season, tweeted that he would be signing a contract to play for the same team we had on the ropes, and yes, I’ll play shoulda, coulda, woulda, we shoulda beaten after being up three games to one. But alas, the Splash Brothers stole the series, and then followed that up by stealing our star player and adopted son.
Few saw it coming. We had all the ingredients to field arguably the best team in basketball next year. We had size, speed, athleticism, scoring, defense. Everything. We felt KD would be crazy go anywhere else, right? This team was teed up for a championship. Besides, the big stars, the true studs, build their own dynasties. Bird in Boston. Magic in LA. Michael in Chicago. Duncan in San Antonio. Dirk in Dallas. We were for sure this would be Kevin’s dynasty, and before he was done he would leave his mark on the State that would rival Will Rogers.
Then with one short Dear John, that all changed, and our fireworks show exploded in our faces.
In a league run by only a handful of elite players, devastating is a word to describe a team losing one of them. Think LeBron leaving Cleveland. The Thunder faithful can say we still have a good team, and it’s true. We can say we will be fun to watch, and we will. We can even say we still have one more of the elite players in Russell Westbrook, who we can build a really good team around. And at least for now, we do. But we’re not kidding our- selves around here. This was a low blow that will take time to heal, maybe lots of time.
We all know the Thunder organization didn’t want to see this happen, that they tried to do everything in their power to stop it. But it just didn’t go their way. Not this time.
So what was the reaction of our GM to this gut punch? Sam Presti had a captive audience on an otherwise slow news day, with the networks willing to give him the rest of the day if he would only provide them with some good sound bites. Sam maybe had the right to give a couple of punches of his own. He could have thrown a little tantrum after losing someone he did so much for over the years. He could have pulled a Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who wrote an open letter a few years back when Lebron bolted to Miami, in which he called Lebron’s move “a cowardly betrayal” and “a narcissistic, self-promotion”, and promised an NBA title in Cleveland before Lebron would ever win one. That’s the same Dan Gilbert who can be seen hugging a gushing Lebron after the Cavaliers finally won a championship last month, Lebron’s fourth. But I digress. Our GM could even have thrown the NBA under the bus for the spiraling salary cap that proved to be the only way the Warriors could afford to pull this out of their hat.
But our GM didn’t do any of those things. Instead, he simply extended a warm and gracious farewell to Kevin, thanking him for his service, and wishing him the very best. He followed that up with an honest and candid assessment of the present situation Thunder Nation is in. No denying. No sugar coating. No sulking. No name calling.
It was rather inspiring. He took a tremendous punch, went down to the canvas, and humbly and quietly got back up and went back to work.
Our Thunder executives are true professionals. They have been in these situations before. And they will be in them again. And again. And again. You see folks, it’s a part of the game. They took their best shot, and it just didn’t go their way this time. My bet is they had a half day pity party while watching fireworks with their families, and were back in their offices first thing Tuesday morning focused on doing the same things that have brought this organization so far so soon.
It’s no secret that bad things happen to all of us. Each and every one of us is on the tough end of events we can’t control, enduring things we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. No one is immune. It just so happens that professional sports teams play out all of their good and bad in front of millions of people. But our trials, though not as public, are much more important than a silly game. We rock along in our jobs, thinking everything is hunky-dory, and then oil drops from $115 to $25 in less than a year, and suddenly we find ourselves out of a job. Or we receive news that we have been diagnosed with cancer. Or we get deceived or harmed by someone we placed our trust in. Or something just flat doesn’t go our way when we really wanted it to, or needed it to.
Every one of us has or will suffer and endure through trials in our lives that are exponentially more serious and important than a millionaire who wants to take his ball somewhere else. It’s not if we will suffer. It’s when. And it’s plural. At the time we feel it’s insurmountable, just too much to bear. The truth is I watch as some of my dear friends endure trials that I don’t think I could bear. But as I’ve lived and witnessed both my own struggles and those of my friends and family, I’ve found that my focus should not be on avoiding the trials that come, as no matter how hard I try, they still come. Rather my focus should be on suffering and enduring the trials when they do come. To not lose my faith, my commitment, my resolve, my hope.
I had a trade this past month that went against me. I followed my system, it set up just like the hundreds of others I put on each year, but over a 48 hour period just after the Brexit vote, the stock sank ten percent and I was forced to exit for a loss. It wasn’t a devastating loss like the ones that can vaporize a portfolio, but it was a loss nonetheless, and I just hate losses. Trades like this one typically happen to me once every year or so, and it would seem I would get used to them despite my best efforts. I follow a strict system and rules to the letter, and yet every once in a while the market just turns and hits me square in the gut. A blow that knocks me right on my rear. I’m not alone. It happens to everyone else who makes a living on Wall Street. And if you do any type of investing, it will happen to you too. No matter how much you plan or how hard you work, you will experience times when your plan doesn’t go as planned. Bad things will happen in trading, just like in everything else in life. It’s just part of the game. The trick of the trade is to not just focus on avoiding the gut punch of a trade gone bad, but focusing more on how to take the punch without getting knocked out, to be able to fight again another day.
When you experience an investment or trade going against you, you have an important choice to make. You can bury your head in the sand and pretend the trade isn’t going against you. You can cross your fingers and toes and hope it turns around. You can point fingers or assign blame. You can stubbornly set your feet and refuse to take action. You can even punt your beliefs and convictions to the curb.
Or you can humbly take the punch, get back up off the canvas, and get back to work.
My bet is the Thunder front office will not change much after KD exit. Most likely they will continue using the same formula and system they have used since Day One finding and developing young, raw talent, and surrounding them with good role players who know how to win. They won’t panic, or change their style because of this setback. No, they will stick to their knitting. It’s been proven successful over the long haul, and will again. It may take a year or two, but I predict the Oklahoma City Thunder will be back better than before. And so will our fans. Gut punches have a way of doing that to those at the top.