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Art Garcia

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The high-flying duo of Russell Westbrook (left) and Kevin Durant has made the Thunder a media darling.
Larry W. Smith /NBAE/Getty Images

Thunder ready for big stage with increased TV exposure


Posted Aug 7 2010 9:35AM - Updated Aug 7 2010 11:48AM

Sometimes it takes awhile for the masses to pick up on the next big thing. Cell phones have been mobile since the 1970s. Velcro needed more than 20 years to latch on. Red Bull left the chute in 1987. Justin Bieber didn't become a pop-culture icon overnight.

OK, bad example.

Few outside of Oklahoma City saw the Thunder coming last season. The networks certainly didn't, as the Kevin Durant-fronted upstarts were ticketed for just one nationally-televised appearance during 2009-10. Due to the flexible nature of TV scheduling, especially during the second half of the season, Oklahoma City did pick up a couple more dates to bring its grand total to a whopping three.

The Thunder already surpassed that total this season. And that's before the full schedule, along with network breakdown, is released Tuesday on NBA.com. Last week's announcement of national TV broadcasts for Kia Motors Tip-Off '10, Christmas Day and Martin Luther King Jr. holiday included four Oklahoma City games out of 21 revealed.

That number figures to multiply several times over once the complete schedule is out. There probably won't be quite as many Thunder games as those allotted the Heat, Lakers and Celtics, but Oklahoma City will be in the neighborhood. There are plenty of reasons to watch.

"We are humbled to be selected as participants during the NBA's signature programming," Thunder executive Brian Byrnes said earlier this week.

LeBron James' former team Cleveland led the way a year ago with the maximum 25 TV dates during the regular season. The Lakers, Celtics and Magic each logged 24. The Nuggets, Spurs and Suns had at least 18 apiece.

Oklahoma City had just one, the same number as Minnesota, Memphis, Toronto and Indiana at the time. (Five teams were shut out initially.) The case against the Thunder was pretty academic back then. The team won just 23 games the previous season.

Durant, though, already had his growing legion of followers in tow and once the Thunder started winning, fans across the NBA began to notice. Oklahoma City quickly became a favorite on NBA TV's popular Fan Night, a national Tuesday broadcast based on NBA.com voting each week. The Thunder maxed out on Fan Night showings.

Oklahoma City finished the regular season 50-32, a league-best 27-game improvement. Durant became the youngest scoring champ in league history. Scott Brooks won Coach of the Year. They took the Lakers to six thrilling games in the first round. Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green are currently finalists for the USA Basketball national team in the upcoming World Championships.

That's momentum. That's the reason this team is going from forgotten stepchild to TV darling.

Here's a quick rundown of the four Thunder contests already slated for national exposure:

• Opening the season Oct. 27 at the Ford Center against Chicago on ESPN. The teams split last year's season series, each winning on other's home court. This marks the third season in a row that the Thunder will open the year at home, going 1-1 on opening night in OKC.

• Hosting Utah Oct. 31 on NBA TV. Last season Oklahoma City was 3-1 versus the Jazz.

• Taking part in one of the league's annual traditions for the first time in OKC when Denver comes to town Christmas Night on ESPN. The Nuggets won the season series last year 3-1.

• Traveling to Los Angeles on MLK Day to play the Lakers on ESPN.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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