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1967–2008: Seattle SuperSonicsMain article: Seattle SuperSonics
The Thunder's previous incarnation, the Seattle SuperSonics, were formed in 1967. In their 41 years in Seattle, the SuperSonics compiled a 1,745–1,585 (.524) win–loss record in the regular season and 107–110 (.493) in the playoffs. The franchise's titles include three Western Conference championships and one NBA title in 1979.Chesapeake Energy Arena (Ford Center at the time) began hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008.Main article: Seattle SuperSonics relocation to Oklahoma City
In 2006 the SuperSonics were sold for $350 million to a group of Oklahoma City investors led by Clay Bennett, a move approved by NBA owners the following October. In 2007, Bennett announced that the franchise would move to Oklahoma City as soon as the lease with KeyArena expired.
In June 2008, a lawsuit between the City of Seattle and Bennett regarding Bennett's attempts to break the final two years of the Sonics' lease at KeyArena went to federal court, and nearly a month later the two sides reached an agreement to settle. The terms awarded the city $45 million to get out of the remaining lease at KeyArena, and could provide an additional $30 million payment to Seattle in 2013 if certain conditions are met. The owners agreed to leave the SuperSonics name, logo and colors in Seattle for a possible future NBA franchise; however, the items would remain the property of the Oklahoma City team along with other "assets," including championship banners and trophies. On September 3, 2008, the team name, logo and colors for the Oklahoma City franchise were announced.
2008–09: Inaugural seasonOklahoma City defeated Minnesota on November 2, 2008 for their first win.Main article: 2008–09 Oklahoma City Thunder season
The Thunder participated in the Orlando Pro Summer League featuring their second-year players, potential free agents and rookies. The players wore generic black and white jerseys reading "OKC-NBA" against an outline of a basketball. The Thunder's temporary practice facility was the Sawyer Center at Southern Nazarene University, which had been used by the New Orleans Hornets when they relocated to Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina.
The Thunder played several preseason games before the 2008–2009 regular season, but only one of those games was in Oklahoma City. The Thunder made their first appearance inBillings, Montana on October 8, 2008 in an 88–82 preseason loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Thunder played their first Ford Center game on October 14 against theLos Angeles Clippers.
In their regular-season home opener, the Thunder faced (and lost to) the Milwaukee Bucks.Earl Watson scored the first points of the season with a layup. Three nights later on November 2, the Thunder won their first game as a franchise by defeating the Timberwolves, improving their record to 1–3. The team then went on a 10-game losing streak before deciding on November 22 to fire head coach P. J. Carlesimo and assistant Paul Westhead. Assistant coach Scott Brooks then took over on an interim basis. Oklahoma City lost its next four games to tie the dubious franchise losing streak of 14 set in Seattle the previous season. But the team managed to prevent history by winning their next game on the road against the Memphis Grizzlies.
As the season continued, the Thunder began to improve. After starting 3–29, the Thunder finished the regular season 20–30 for the remaining fifty games. Not only were they winning more often, they played much more competitively than in the first part of the season. The team ended their first season in Oklahoma City with a win against the Los Angeles Clippers, bringing their record to 23–59 and improving upon their record of 20–62 from the team's final season in Seattle. The late-season successes of the Thunder contributed to the signing of Scott Brooks as the team's official head coach.
After moving to Oklahoma City from Seattle, the team's operating situation improved markedly. In December 2008, Forbes Magazineestimated the team's franchise value at $300 million – a 12% increase from the previous year's $268 million when the club was located in Seattle. Forbes also noted an increase in percentage of available tickets sold, from 78% in the team's last year in Seattle to 100% in 2008–09.
2009–10: The turnaround seasonMain article: 2009–10 Oklahoma City Thunder season
After an inaugural season filled with many adjustments, the Thunder hoped to improve during their second season in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City did not make any major moves in the offseason, other than drafting James Harden from Arizona State University with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft. The Thunder selected Rodrigue Beaubois with the 25th pick in the 2009 draft before immediately trading him to the Dallas Mavericks for the 24th pick, C Byron Mullens from Ohio State University. The team then added veterans CEtan Thomas and G Kevin Ollie. The last major change to their roster occurred on December 22, 2009, when the team traded for Eric Maynor from the Utah Jazz. Maynor immediately supplanted Ollie as the backup point guard.
From the outset the young team looked determined and cohesive. The increasing leadership of Kevin Durant, along with the growing experience of the Thunder's younger players, were encouraging signs that the Thunder were improving. The 2009–10 season included several victories over the NBA's elite teams, including a 28-point blowout over the Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic and a 16-point blowout of the reigning NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. Road victories over the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks greatly enhanced their reputation. Though they hovered around .500 for the first half of the season, they eventually went on a 9-game winning streak that sent them into serious playoff contention. Kevin Durant became the youngest player in league history to win the scoring title, averaging 30.1 points per game while playing in all 82 games.
The Thunder finished 50–32, more than doubling their win total from the previous season. The 50–32 tied with the 2008 Golden State Warriors as the best 8 seeds in the modern Playoffs era, at least in terms of record. The Oklahoma City Thunder also had the same record as the Boston Celtics in this season. They finished fourth in the Northwest Division and eighth in the Western Conference playoff standings, and earned a spot in the 2010 NBA Playoffs. On April 22, the team secured their first playoff win in Oklahoma City when they defeated the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers 101–96. This was also the Thunder's first playoff win at the Ford Center. However, the Thunder were eliminated by the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, 4 games to 2.
Oklahoma City ranked twelfth in overall attendance in the NBA, and seventh in percentage of available seats occupied (98%, including 28 sellouts in 41 home games). The team's operating situation also continued to improve in 2009–10. Forbes Magazine estimated the team's franchise value at $310 million (an increase of $10 million over the prior year) with an estimated operating profit of $12.7 million (the first operating profit in years for the franchise).
2010–2011: Rise to prominenceKevin DurantRussell WestbrookMain article: 2010–11 Oklahoma City Thunder season
Financially, the Thunder organization continued to build on the positive returns experienced from relocating from Seattle to Oklahoma City. In January 2011, Forbes Magazine estimated the franchise's worth at $329 million, up 6% from 2009–10 and ranking #18 in the NBA. The magazine also estimated the franchise's revenue at $118 million and operating profit at $22.6 million – up 6.3% and 78%, respectively, from the previous year. The Thunder finished the 2010–2011 season with 55–27 record, a five-win increase from their breakout season the previous year. The team also captured their first division title since moving to Oklahoma City, and seventh in franchise history.
In the wake of a highly anticipated fourth versus fifth seed matchup against the Denver Nuggets, Kevin Durant scored 41 points in Game 1 to set a new career playoff high. In the final game of the series, he again scored 41 and forward Serge Ibaka nearly tied the record for most blocks in a playoff game (10, set by Mark Eaton and Hakeem Olajuwon) with 9 blocks. With the victory, the Thunder were able to pull through and win the series, 4 games to 1, set to face off against the Memphis Grizzlies who achieved an eight seed upset over theSan Antonio Spurs just days before. The Thunder advanced to the Western Conference Finals with a hard-fought 7-game series triumph over the Memphis Grizzlies. Durant was again the star, scoring 39 points in the clinching Game 7, while Russell Westbrook also had a triple-double. Despite hard-fought battles with the eventual NBA champs, the Thunder fell to the Dallas Mavericks 4–1 in the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder had a chance to tie the series in Game 4, but they were unable to hold a 15 point lead with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and ended up losing in overtime by the score of 112–105.
2011–present: Chasing the titleMain article: 2011–12 Oklahoma City Thunder season
During the extended lockout, Thunder players (notably Kevin Durant, James Harden, Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka) played in exhibitions in the United States and in other countries[clarification needed] to stay in shape. When the abbreviated training camp began, OKC started with an intact roster and all players, with the exception of Russell Westbrook, under contract up for the near future. In addition, Kendrick Perkins lost more than 30 pounds during the lockout. The Thunder made their two on-court appearances, post-lockout, against the Dallas Mavericks, winning both pre-season games. They won their first regular-season game against Orlando at home and went on a five-game winning streak. Kevin Durant nearly made NBA history when he became the sixth player to score 30 or more points in four consecutive games at the start of a season. In addition, the Thunder was the first to sweep their back-to-back-to-back games, winning a home-and-home series with the Houston Rockets, then routing the San Antonio Spurs. In addition, Thunder players Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Perkins, and Ibaka made it onto the 2012 All-Star ballots. After the Thunder's win over the Utah Jazz on February 11, 2012, Scott Brooks was named the Head Coach of the Western Conference All-Star squad for the 2012 NBA All-Star Game in Orlando, Florida. The Thunder managed to make it to the second round against their first round foes from 2010, the Los Angeles Lakers.