Small-market teams giving city slickers a run for their money in NBA playoffs

May 24, 2012

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As Chicago sports fans struggle through a Bull-less second round of the NBA playoffs, one can’t help but notice that this year, small-market teams came to play—and win. The size bias is present, to some degree, in all professional sports; but none more so than basketball. The three largest metro areas—New York, Los Angeles and Chicago—house five NBA teams which collectively have won 47 percent of all titles since 1976. But this year, small-town teams are giving the big three cities a run for their money; San Antonio and Oklahoma City have already bumped off both LA teams.

Scenes from in and around the Ford Center in Oklahoma City have been spectacular: the crowds inside the stadium are raucous and color coordinated; and their shirts are further matched by the enthusiasm of the thousands of fans watching the game on jumbo screens in the parking lot. For me, and for other Chicago Bulls fans, the story of the Thunder is one we can root for because a) they’re not the Heat and b) no one wants Kobe any closer to Michael's six rings and c) who doesn’t like rooting for the little guy? Seattle, that’s who.

The Supersonics move to Oklahoma was steeped in controversy—and sorrow. So much so that many Seattleites are still fighting to bring basketball back to the port. The movement experienced a second wind after a documentary went viral—and wound up winning a Webby. Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team was recently repackaged and re-cut to air on CNBC, where it received national exposure.

The film’s director, Jason Reid, is, of course, a diehard Supersonics fan. He says it’s hard not to root for Kevin Durant, who was, after all, drafted by Seattle; as was teammate Russell Westbrook just two weeks before the move was finalized. But, Reid says, watching the Thunder in the playoffs is absolutely brutal.

“We love the players but we can’t root for the franchise,” Reid said, “because the Oklahoma City owner is the guy who ripped them out of the city.”

For a closer look at how—and which—small-market teams rise to the top, Afternoon Shift talked to sports number cruncher Tim Mahon, a principal at Midwest Diversified Services Group, and (literal) diehard Seattle Supersonics fan and filmmaker, Reid.