When I was the MVP of free Thunder swag

In 2008, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Twitter were new things. Neither of them had reached the level of popularity they enjoy today. I guess you could say I was an early adopter of both.

Before they became a winning team, the Thunder did a lot of online promotions on Twitter and elsewhere. I do not think it is unfair to say I was an absolute master of winning these contests. Many of them demanded speed. For example, the team might tweet that they were giving away a prize package to the first person to email the mascot Rumble the Bison. I prepared by adjusting the Twitter settings to automatically ping me when the Thunder tweeted, and I saved the main marketing emails, phone numbers, etc., to my phone so I could fire off a response within seconds.

Because there were so few Twitter users in 2008-09, it was pretty easy for me to rack up a bunch of team stuff like a Rumble doll (I gave that to Matt’s daughter), several T-shirts, and once I won entry into a “Tweet Suite”. For an entire game, several of us dorky Twitter users got to hang out in a suite and tweet about the game, while the team account retweeted us. Yes, I realize none of this information makes me sound super cool. But it was fun and that’s all I cared about at the time.

Hanging with Rumble in the “Tweet Suite”

The best item I won off Twitter was an autographed 8×10 photo of Russell Westbrook. He was a rookie at the time, and a lot of people in Oklahoma thought the Thunder drafted him too high at #4 overall. He had not established himself in any way as the global superstar he is today. So I didn’t think too much about the prize at the time. I just tucked it away and forgot about it for years. More about that later.

In those early years, the Thunder would also host a chat session on its web site during the games to discuss the action on the court. One of the members of the team’s marketing staff was the moderator. Only a few dozen people would join these chats, as I recall. In between the third and fourth quarters of the games, the staff member would pose an NBA trivia question. The first one to get it right would win two tickets to the next home game.

Now, an intense knowledge of NBA history certainly could have helped win this contest. I didn’t have that. I’m a baseball guy. But luckily, most Oklahomans at that time also didn’t have a thorough grasp of the pro game. So again, it was a matter of speed. And damn, was I fast. I had two browsers open and tiled side-by-side, one to the chat and one to Google. I would have the question typed in the search bar the second it was asked. I’d copy and paste the answer back to the other window and hit enter. And I won. A lot. I’m gonna say at least 15 times. And they weren’t top of the arena Loud City seats. I never sat farther than 10 rows back of the court when I won these contests.

Why didn’t they limit the number of times I could win? I do not know. They should have. I quickly lost interest in the chat room itself. I would just fire up the PC in the waning moments of the third quarter, say a few niceties to the regulars, and then do my thing. The only time I didn’t have a fighting chance of winning the trivia contest was when I was at the game because I had won the previous contest. I even tried to use my phone to win from the arena. But cell phone data wasn’t quite there in the late aughts.

I didn’t have much money in those days. In fact, I was unemployed during some of this stretch. So it was cool to enjoy the Thunder up close and personal on a semi-regular basis. I had a pre-game routine in which I parked in Bricktown for free and I went to America’s Pub. They had a burger and fries special for $5. Every 20 minutes they would let all the patrons in the bar shoot free throws. Those who made their shot won a free draft beer. For whatever reason, I almost always made it. I was enjoying an NBA game from the rich people seats, and a meal, and cold Silver Bullets, for the mere price of a Subway footlong. The luck was flowing.

Until it wasn’t. Because it didn’t take long until the Thunder became a legit NBA team. They made the playoffs in 2010 and gave the Lakers all they wanted in the first round. The Thunder were suddenly an incredibly hot ticket. The free tickets vanished. I paid for my own seat in that playoff round and I sat way way way up high. Heck, even America’s Pub eventually closed. I guess the business model of cheap food and free beer didn’t work in such a high-rent district.

The Andersons at the playoffs

So back to that Westbrook photo. Once he was Mr. Triple-Double MVP, I remembered I once had his autograph in my possession. But I had no idea where. I searched the house up and down. I even asked a couple of people if I had given it to them. No luck. So I gave up. I figured it was lost when I moved to Missouri and got married in 2014. After all, most of my single life was sold off in a garage sale before the move.

But lo and behold, it revealed itself today. We have been working on a total-house cleanout and I am minimizing my possessions. I was going through my baseball memorabilia so I could separate it into stacks of “keep” vs “scan and toss”. And there he was. An pre-superstardom, early-20s Westbrook with that already-ferocious look ready to slam the ball in front of Jameer Nelson. It’s amazing. I will be framing it. It’s just too bad he moved South and I moved north. Ah, the good old days.