Sitting in front of the Ford Center, 7-year-old Christian Alvarez wore an Oklahoma City Thunder shirt and held a sign with a simple request.


Sitting in front of the Ford Center, 7-year-old Christian Alvarez wore an Oklahoma City Thunder shirt and held a sign with a simple request.
“Please give us tickets! Today is my Daddy’s birthday! We have proof!” the sign read. “Go OKC Thunder!”
Attached was a copy of the driver’s license of Hilario Alvarez of Oklahoma City, who turned 38 on Wednesday. Christian and his mother, Lucinda Lopez, were near the front of a line that stretched for a city block, hoping to buy one of 200 remaining tickets to the Thunder’s season opener against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Thunder sold out its 13,000 season ticket packages in five days and individual tickets for the game also sold quickly, but the franchise formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics pledged to always have tickets available on game night.
Lopez deemed the chance to attend the Thunder’s first-ever regular-season game as a good enough reason to allow Christian to skip school.
“This is history, because this is happening in Oklahoma City,” she said. “I brought my son out here to realize what we’ve got now. This is special for Oklahoma.”
Judging from the crowd outside the Ford Center before the game, Christian wasn’t the only one playing hooky. At a block party outside the arena, plenty of youngsters — and grownups — enjoyed live music, inflatables, sport courts and BMX stunt shows.
Banners from each NBA team lined the street outside the arena for the first regular-season NBA game since the New Orleans Hornets ended a two-year stay in Oklahoma City in 2007. A large sign noted that it was “Opening Night” for the Thunder.
About four hours before the game was scheduled to start, Clay Bennett — the chairman of the Thunder’s ownership group — walked out of the Ford Center, looked around and smiled, then gave the fans waiting in line for tickets a thumbs-up before going back into the arena.
NBA Commissioner David Stern, who supported efforts to bring the franchise to Oklahoma City, also planned to attend the game.
Charlie Heatly couldn’t stop smiling. Long retired from his career coaching girls basketball in Lindsay, Heatly thought back decades, to when hosting an annual holiday college tournament was considered one of the biggest things in Oklahoma City.
“This just means a lot to our state,” said the 74-year-old Heatly, who bought season tickets for the Thunder, just as he had for the Hornets. “I think people will take to this team just as they took to the Hornets.”
Dustin Iliff brought a group of six, including four students, from Woodward, a 139-mile one-way drive from Oklahoma City. The 32-year-old restaurant general manager — wearing a Thunder shirt with reigning Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant’s No. 35 — said he’d done the same thing 51 times when the Hornets were in town and that he probably would make 25 to 30 trips this season to watch the Thunder.
He said coming to watch NBA games is a full-day investment for him, but one that is worthwhile.
“I’m a huge sports fan, but I prefer to watch (Oklahoma) and (Oklahoma State) on TV,” Iliff said. “That’s a good seat, at home. But the NBA? You can’t beat it, to be able to come down here and see the athletes that we see ... It just blows me away.”