OKLAHOMA CITY--()--Ten years ago, the idea that Oklahoma City could have a professional sports team of any type – let alone a championship-caliber NBA team – seemed an impossible dream. That being said, for a community like Oklahoma City, a community united by a dedication to character and growth, impossible dreams merely exist as possible opportunities.
“I would guess that for a lot of people coming to the NBA finals, this will be their first time experiencing Oklahoma City”
On June 6, 2012, the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the San Antonio Spurs in a 107-99 victory in Oklahoma City, taking command of the Western Conference and clinching their slot in the NBA Finals. Now, Oklahoma City is preparing to welcome thousands of guests, athletes and media who will descend upon the city this week. The more than 1.3 million residents who call Oklahoma City home are ready to make sure their guests leave with more than just an incredible basketball experience – they want them to leave knowing that Oklahoma City is a vibrant, growing metro area - one with a unique history, heritage and an overwhelming sense of unity that is difficult to replicate.
“Oklahoma City is a dramatically different city than it was 20 years ago,” said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. “Back then, anyone downtown after 5 p.m. was just working late. There was nothing to do and no reason to visit the area. Today’s Oklahoma City is filled with dining, cultural and entertainment options – with more added every day. You’ll need ample time to really experience everything our downtown – and entire metro area – has to offer.”
During the past 20 years, the transformation Oklahoma City has achieved is so all-encompassing that many started referring to Oklahoma City as the city that emerged from “tragedy to triumph.” It started in 1993 with the passage of a sales tax known as Metropolitan Area Projects, or “MAPS,” which funded the most aggressive downtown revitalization ever undertaken in the U.S. MAPS included plans to build a professional sports arena, even though there was no promise of a team to play there. Many thought MAPS was too radical of an idea for the public to support, especially considering the citizens would have to agree to tax themselves. It seemed impossible. But much to the surprise of many, the voters took a chance and voted “yes” for MAPS.
Then tragedy struck. On April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed in a terrorist attack that claimed 168 lives.
“We were in shock,” said Meg Salyer, Oklahoma City councilwoman and president of Accel Financial Staffing, whose office was located downtown at the time. “We couldn’t imagine that something like that could happen here.”
It would have been easy to take a step back, to halt progress. But rather than hang their heads, Oklahoma City residents came together in a show of unity unlike anything the country had ever seen.
“We were determined to move forward,” said Ron Norick, Oklahoma City mayor from 1987 to 1999, who was serving as mayor during the bombing. “This was the most horrific thing you could imagine happening, but we weren’t going to let it break us. We were going to pick ourselves up, come together, and be better than we were before. It made us even more determined than we already were.”
Under that banner of unity, the city moved forward not only with building the arena, but also by saying yes in 2001 and in 2009 to the passage of MAPS for Kids and MAPS 3. Over a 20-year period, the city went from a sleepy town to a bustling metro area invigorated by more than $5 billion in new public and private investment throughout the city. A new ballpark, a mile-long downtown canal, an official Olympic training site at the river, new and renovated schools and, of course, Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Today, the arena is home to the city’s beloved Thunder, and tourism in Oklahoma is a $6.2 billion industry. Oklahoma City consistently ranks at the top of “best of” lists for everything from job creation to a strong real estate market to charitable giving. It has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, and is home to Fortune 500 energy companies Devon Energy and Chesapeake Energy, corporate headquarters for Hobby Lobby, Sonic – America’s Drive In, Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, and others. The city is home to a vibrant aerospace sector, a growing bioscience industry cluster that employs more than 51,000 across the state, and was recently named one of the top three cities in America to start a small business.
“I would guess that for a lot of people coming to the NBA finals, this will be their first time experiencing Oklahoma City,” said Carl Edwards, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber chairman and partner at Price, Edwards, & Company. “I think they are going to be surprised by what they see. Our citizens are sincere, friendly and giving. We can’t wait to support our team and show our guests what we’re all about.”
Community leaders from across the city are coming together to make sure those visiting Oklahoma City for the finals enjoy a positive experience. They will be hosting an online media room at www.okcnewsroom.com, where press kits, photos, packaged stories and b-roll for the media will be made available.
“This is our chance to introduce Oklahoma City to the world,” said Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “Yes, we are about sports and NBA basketball, but we are about so much more than that. We have an incredible story. We are a city full of incredible people.”
The Thunder’s first game in the NBA Finals will take place on Tuesday, June 12 in Oklahoma City against the winner of the Eastern Conference Championship Series. Basketball fans from more than 200 countries will watch, listen and participate in the action.
For more information about Oklahoma City, please visit our new Oklahoma City microsite www.okcnewsroom.com, which will be live on Sunday, June 10 at midnight, or contact Jill Harrison at JHarrison@okcchamber.com or (405) 297-8990. For more information about the NBA finals, please visit www.NBA.com.
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