This story originally ran on VelocityOKC.com.
October 2018 marked 10 years since the Oklahoma City Thunder played its first game in Oklahoma City, the beginning of Oklahoma City’s status as a big-league city. But bringing the NBA to Oklahoma City is a story that started much earlier than the Thunder’s first game.
Oklahoma City’s serious aspirations to attract a major sporting franchise began in earnest with the passage of the Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) in 1993. One of the MAPS program’s capstone projects was the construction of an arena built to meet NBA and NHL specifications. Construction on that arena began in 1999, and the facility opened on June 8, 2002. In 2005, Oklahoma City had an opportunity to host a professional sports team when the New Orleans Hornets temporarily relocated to Oklahoma City following Hurricane Katrina. From 2005-2007, the Hornets played two seasons in Oklahoma City, enjoying its sell-out crowds and supportive fan base. The excitement in Oklahoma City provided overwhelming evidence to the NBA that a team could be successful here.
Fans were just as eager to see Oklahoma City have a team of their own. In March 2008, Oklahoma City residents approved a penny sales tax to further propel Oklahoma City to the big leagues. The temporary sales tax raised $121 million to pay for needed improvements to the arena and to construct a practice facility.
Later that year, the Oklahoma City Thunder started its inaugural season and played its first home game on Oct. 14, 2008. In a Q&A that appeared in that month’s issue of The POINT!, Thunder Vice President of Corporate Communications Dan Mahoney said, “Because Oklahoma City has experienced the NBA through the Hornets, the city realizes what a tremendous community asset the Thunder can be. The people of Oklahoma City have been incredibly welcoming. Our players, coaches and staff are as excited to be here as the city is to have us.”