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Are Thunder's days numbered? New poll claims support for new arena to be well underwater
The Oklahoma City Thunder may be in serious trouble and I don’t mean on the court. On the court, barring calamitous injury, I frankly don’t see how they win fewer than 50 games.
They won 40 a year ago and that was without No. 2 pick in the draft, 7-foot-1 center Chet Holmgren, who can play the whole floor and is on schedule to finally embark on his rookie season.
That and point guard and leading scorer Shai Gilgeous Alexander, all-NBA last season and fifth in the league’s MVP voting, is only getting better; every single player general manager Sam Presti and coach Mark Daigneault want to return will be returning and each should be a year stronger, a year more mature and a year better; and the mental block that caused OKC to be 1-11 when faced with the opportunity to finally get back to .500* should be alleviated because, this time around, for the first time in some time, most expect the Thunder to win more games than they lose.
Take a look at these maddening results from last season.
(Thunder record: next game played)
4-5: at Pistons, L, 103-112
6-7: at Celtics, L, 122-126
7-8: at Grizzlies, L, 110-121
22-23: vs. Hawks, L, 132-137
24-25: vs. Warriors, L, 120-128
27-28: vs. Pelicans, L, 120-123
28-29: at Jazz, L, 119-120 (OT)
34-35: at Raptors, L, 111-128
35-36: at Clippers, W, 101-100
36-37: at Lakers, L, 111-116
37-38: vs. Hornets, L, 134-137
38-39: at Pacers, L, 117-121
Ergo, on the court, all should be good.
The threat is off the court and it’s existential.
I have to admit, when it was announced a vote on new arena funding would take place Dec. 12 — a one-cent sales tax lasting six years, raising $850 million of a new arena’s $900 million price tag, the Thunder kicking in the remaining $50 million — I paid it little mind.
Oklahoma City has been passing MAPS taxes and projects for years and years and this seemed like just another one. No, it’s not called that, but that’s essentially what it is. In fact, given the Thunder’s economic impact in the city, the arena project should work like a MAPS project, bound to attract new investment in and around the city, especially near the arena.
As it happens, because the arena tax would not be implemented until the MAPS 4 one-cent sales tax ends, the tax voters are being asked to support isn’t even an increase so much as a replacement.
Ought to be a slam dunk, right?
Maybe, but it’s clearly not according to results released by Emerson College Polling on Tuesday that would have Oklahoma Citians believe the Thunder may never get their arena, a state of affairs that could mean Oklahoma City does not keep its team.
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The “credibility interval” — a term Emerson College Polling prefers to “margin of error” — is a vast plus-or-minus 10.8 percent because only 82 Oklahoma Citians were polled.
That’s because the majority of the poll was to determine the state’s political leanings vis-a-vis Joe Biden, Donald Trump and Kevin Stitt, leading to 447 Oklahomans to take part, 82 of which were Oklahoma Citians.
And if you believe a six-year, one-cent sales tax to be a fine deal to keep an NBA team, here’s the bad news:
In Oklahoma City, according to Emerson College Polling — plus-or-minus 10.8 percent — 53 percent of voters are against the arena proposal, 22 percent are for it and 25 percent are unsure or without an opinion.
If minds don’t change, the poll suggests, even if every unaware/not sure vote were to become a yes vote, it still wouldn’t be enough.
Oddly, the numbers supporting the arena and the tax to pay for it are better statewide than in Oklahoma City alone — maybe because the tax won’t be paid statewide? — where 25 percent are in favor, 42 percent against and 34 percent unsure or without an opinion.
Of course, the truth about elections like this is they’re all about turnout, turnout, turnout, and if every single young professional in Oklahoma City who lives in housing that either didn’t exist, or wasn’t in nearly such high demand prior to the Thunder’s arrival, those votes alone might be enough to win the day.
Also, perhaps it’s not too late to rebrand the vote and call it MAPS for HOOPS or some such thing, making it actually another MAPS vote.
Something else might help, too, and that would be the Thunder getting off to a smoking hot 16-4 start because Dec. 12 is one day after OKC’s 20th game of the ’23-’24 season, a home-court affair against the Utah Jazz.
Thunder management love to believe it’s never in a win-now environment, even when it has the horses to win now, but maybe this would be a time for ownership to tell Presti and Daigneault what Herm Edwards told us so many years ago:
“YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME.”
Or, perhaps, the possibilities are not as dire as they appear.
The current MAPS 4 one-cent sales tax is in place for another four years-plus and the arena tax would not go into affect until April 1, 2028.
Maybe the team could be talked into plunking down another $50 million in time for another vote in a year, two or three; and between now and then, maybe, every game becomes a sellout again, television ratings surge again and the Thunder compete for championships again, all of which could very well happen, all of which would reflect well on any future funding election.
The legislature could get involved, too, because we seem to be carrying this huge surplus and the Thunder really do represent the whole state.
Heck, decent chance, half the Thunder’s attendance has come from outside Oklahoma City proper for years and years already, with fans coming in from the entire metro and beyond.
Maybe a lot of things.
What’s certain is there’s one poll that’s taken a crack at telling us where the Oklahoma City electorate is on the issue and the results are alarming
The headline atop it is “Oklahoma poll: Gov. Stitt and Biden with Low Approval Ratings,” but that’s because that’s what most of the poll is about. Scroll down and you’ll see the arena stuff.
While you’re at it, hope disaster can be averted, because Oklahoma City should be a major league city.
But it can’t be if it isn’t.