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A Look Back At 10 Years Of The NBA In OKC

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Time flies when you're having fun. Or watching NBA basketball. Time flies when you're having fun. Or watching NBA basketball.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

Time flies when you're having fun. Or watching NBA basketball.

That might help to explain how it's possible that this past Sunday -- November 1 -- marked 10 years since the NBA debuted here. It's an anniversary that means just a little bit more to some Oklahomans.

Angela Abrego is one of them: "I don't count my steps, but who knows how much I walk," said Abrego on a recent Thunder game night.

Abrego does a lot of walking because, as SMG's assistant manager for guest relations and security, she has to keep tabs on the efforts of 350 workers at the Chesapeake Arena on games nights.

"I'll walk around, make sure people are getting in," said Abrego. "I mean, we've got the new mags (magnetometers) this year, so the process is a little slow, but we're getting there."

As far as she walks, literally, Abrego's come even farther, figuratively.

SMG hired her as a part-time guest relations worker back in 2002, when the only game in town was minor league ice hockey.

"We had the Blazers back then," laughed Abrego. "So I thought this would be a fun job, to be around hockey."

Just a few years earlier, Oklahoma City had been a finalist in the NHL's expansion sweepstakes -- six cities vying for four franchises. Oklahoma City was not selected.

Still, with the Blazers' strong following, ice hockey seemed to be the city's best and only realistic hope for a major league franchise, until late August 2005.

Hurricane Katrina dealt a catastrophic blow to the Gulf Coast and left the City of New Orleans under water, which changed everything.

"I remember hearing on the news that people were wondering where the New Orleans Saints were going to play that weekend," said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett in a recent interview, "and that got me to think, 'Well, don't they have an NBA team? Where's the NBA team going to play?'"

Cornett said, even though the start of the NBA season was still a couple months away at that time, the pictures he was seeing made it clear the New Orleans Hornets would have to temporarily relocate.

"And so that's when I picked up the phone and called [NBA Commissioner] David Stern to see what they were thinking," recalled Cornett.

Two months later, on November 1, 2005, the New Orleans-Oklahoma City Hornets tipped off the 2005-2006 season at what was then the Ford Center with a win over the Sacramento Kings.

It took impressive off-the-court teamwork to make it happen. The City of Oklahoma City, the business community, and even state leaders all stepped up to create a playing field on which the Hornets were guaranteed not to lose money.

Cornett said just how impressive that teamwork was became clear a week into the season, when Commissioner Stern flew into town.

"He saw his first game in our arena, and announced that we had moved to the top of the relocation list," Cornett said.

At that point, the Mayor said, no one quite understood what that would mean, but he says it was clear to him that the city was being giving an unprecedented audition.

"And that was kind of our role in that one year, to come to the need of a city and a franchise, and at the same time have an opportunity to prove that [we] had advanced enough to become a major league city," Cornett said.

Three years later, with the relocation of the Sonics franchise, the NBA took up permanent residence in Oklahoma City, in the form of the Thunder.

Not long after that, SMG promoted Angela Abrego to manager. In her job, Abrego doesn't get to see the Thunder games.

"I just get to hear the reaction out of the crowd," Abrego said.

And yet she has certainly seen it all.

"Being part of the NBA," mused Abrego. "I mean, who would've thought we would ever have an NBA team here in Oklahoma City?"

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