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The Lonely City: Thunder stand as final franchise without in-person attendance

Since the opening of the 2020-21 NBA season, the player’s health and safety became the utmost priority. With that, only a handful of select teams allowed for in-person attendance to begin the regular season — five months later, and that sentiment still stands. 

With the NBA season debuting December 22, 14 teams permitted fans to enter their arenas, of those 14, only three teams set their capacity above 10-percent of the arena’s seating. Over time though, with medical advances alongside diminishing case numbers, one-by-one franchises have been easing off the brake — allowing for fans to trickle in for home games.

Given more optimistic CO-VID 19 reports, only three franchises entering May were holding out from admitting fans into their games: the Chicago Bulls, Portland Trail Blazers, and the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

Organizations’ rulings on fans were expected to remain the same this month as the league is on the back-end of the regular-season — but after a recent push for in-person viewing, two teams have budged. 

On April 29, the Chicago Bulls made a staggering announcement that the United Center will hold in-person attendance for the team’s final four home games — the doors open Friday to play the Boston Celtics. The organizations’ clearance from Chicago city officials set the groundworks for a 25% arena capacity under a strict mask mandate, roughly 5,800 fans will be in attendance. Under that ruling, the team’s pushing-out fans stood to a paltry two.

No indications pointed towards the Portland Trail Blazers or Oklahoma City Thunder nuzzling out in-person attendance but after a string of tweets — Portland flipped the page. As the Trail Blazers took an off-day Tuesday evening, star point-guard Damian Lillard took to Twitter, stating, “So we gone be the only damn team in the whole league with no fans.” That 65-character string was enough to not just set Blazers’ fans off a tangent, but social media as a whole. As of Friday, Lillard’s tweet has garnered over 59,000 likes and 3,200 retweets rallying up fans in the thousands to call upon the doors reopening. In what can only be chalked up as a strange coincidence, the Portland Trail Blazers posted a tweet of their own, just 21-hours later, signaling the Moda Center would be back in session come May 7.

And then there was one.

Oklahoma City has been adamant since the season’s onset that the Thunder would not admit fans into the arena for the 2021-22 season, and with no traces of fans returning — it is safe to assume that will remain. The latest statement the organization relayed came on March 1 when they sent a letter out the team’s season ticket holders. In an excerpt from the message, it read, “As you know, the Thunder made a decision to begin this season without guests inside the arena. We communicated to you at the time, and since then, that we would monitor the situation to determine if guests could return at some point during the second half of the season. As we have continued to evaluate all conditions, we have made the final decision to not host fans for the balance of the 2021-21 season.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder currently rank forth-worst in standings with a 21-46 record (on track to set the worst record since 2008) so on one end, the current roster may not be as eye-catching as others. But, as we know, Loud City packs the Peake’ regardless of who is fielded on the roster. Take this as a notion from the organization as yet another safety precaution, but also another build-up in the Thunder’s highly anticipated 2021-22 season.

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