Upset about the Thunder? Tom Savage feels your pain
By Jim Moore
Think you’re rooting against the Thunder? As Sonics fans, most of us can’t bear the thought of Oklahoma City winning an NBA championship.
On Wednesday night, most of us thought about what it would have been like at KeyArena if the Thunder were still the Sonics. What a celebration that would have been after the Sonics ousted the Spurs in the Western Conference finals.
While Thunder owner Clay Bennett was hoisting the Western Conference championship trophy, I received a text from Tom Savage.
“Ugh,” he wrote. “Time for a martini.”
Even though he lives in Sioux Falls, S.D., Savage is right there with us as a Thunder hater. He was the Sonics’ media-relations director during the team’s final season here in 2007-08.
I spoke to Savage earlier this week about his lingering anger when it comes to all things Thunder.
Before the start of the Sonics’ last year in Seattle, Savage said general manager Sam Presti told him: “You need to be (a jerk) to the media.”
Savage said he talked to Presti several times about the great storylines associated with the players, wanting to tell reporters about them. But the young GM nixed that notion.
“He told me he never wanted to put the players in a situation that they didn’t need to be in,” Savage said.
When the media had access to players, typically from 3 to 3:30 p.m., Presti would oftentimes stand there and make sure that reporters were out the door by 3:30 and not a second later.
“He could run for mayor in Oklahoma City and win,” Savage said. “He’s a guy who comes off as squeaky-clean, but he was the one who caused the most problems. People thought Clay was the one trying to break ties with the community. That simply wasn’t true. Between the climate in the city at the time and Sam’s approach to the media, I knew it was going to be a perfect storm.”
Tom Savage thinks Clay Bennett actually wanted to keep the Sonics in Seattle. “I’ll always believe that,” he said. (AP)
After major announcements, Savage said Bennett always wanted to know what the media was saying about him. Though Bennett is generally hated here for moving the team, Savage believes he actually wanted to keep it in Seattle.
“If they would’ve gotten a building in Renton, they would have made a killing,” Savage said. “From the second that Clay bought the team, he was so vilified. It wasn’t true that he wanted to move the team right after he bought it. I’ll always believe that.”
When the Sonics left, Savage was offered a job as director of corporate communications for the Thunder. He wanted to remain as media-relations director but took the job because he had a wife and young daughter. He was upset about having to take a less desirable job.
“With all of the bullets I took,” he said to himself, “out of all of the people, you’re gonna (expletive) me?”
Savage said he received death threats from Sonics fans after the team left.
“People thought I had something to do with it,” Savage said. “One guy said: ‘I hope you die in a bombing like those people did in Oklahoma City,’ and another guy said: ‘I know you have a wife and daughter, so watch your back.’ “
Savage spent a little over a year in OKC, trying to make the best of a bad situation. He finally quit to take a PR job with U.S. Sports Advisors in Indianapolis.
“I could sense that my time was coming (to be fired),” Savage said. “I felt like I got totally screwed, and I was bored to death. My wife and I hated Oklahoma City so much. Oklahoma City’s the worst. You can’t find a good restaurant. There are chains and strip malls everywhere. It’s flat, dusty, hot, muggy, you name it. Oklahoma City made Indianapolis look like Paris.
“It’s not an NBA city to me. It was a great injustice (to Seattle).”
Savage will root hard for the Thunder to lose in the NBA Finals.
I asked him if he were torn a little bit since he knows a few people in the front office and basketball side of the operation as well as two players – Kevin Durant and Nick Collison. He also called coach Scott Brooks “a super guy.”
Savage said he’d be happy for Brooks if the Thunder wins the title but admits he’d be happier if the Thunder loses in the next round.
“People tell me I’ve got to stop watching the games,” Savage said. “It’s been very difficult. I feel like I got jobbed.”
On his first day in Oklahoma City after the team left Seattle, Savage went to a local laundromat wearing a Sonics T-shirt. A man came up to him and said: “You know, it’s not Seattle’s team anymore.”
Savage made small talk with the man and told him he’d get him a couple of tickets to a game. Then, after Savage got in his car to leave, the man tapped on his passenger window and said: “I’m sure you’re good at what you do, but just be careful. Okies like to take care of each other.”
Said Savage: “I’ll never forget that day. I counted it up – 473 days later, he was right.”
Savage was off to Indianapolis, but the bitterness remains in Sioux Falls.
“I do not want them to win,” he said.