The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City: its Chaotic Founding… its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-class Metropolis
A book I wasn’t sure I wanted to read, but a review in the local paper convinced me otherwise. For me the dry words of a geographical biography can be often mind numbing, but about two chapters into this book and it was apparent that was not the way this one would read.
It’s not a love story, it’s not a hatchet job, it’s something in between, something that made me read the book almost straight through.
I still was hesitant because of the way the author Sam Anderson jumped round from chapter to chapter, he talked about the land run and then one of the next chapters would be about James Harden, Sam Presti or Wayne Coyne – then Daniel Orton popped up and claimed a fair potion of the book. How did he really fit in the scheme of things? All of these were important parts of the book that made me both proud and angry at the people who started this city. And certainly furious at the some of the more recent shenanigans that has given Oklahoma City a poor reputation, one that has been at times richly deserved. Anderson explores all the high jinks and devious maneuvering that went on in the early days, how when cities and states around us were civilized, Oklahoma had its own laws. It wasn’t pretty.
Names that are familiar to all who live here come alive as the history lesson unfolds in way that you won’t read in typical history books. Clara Luper comes alive with the sadness of the race issues that plagued and still plague this state and will haunt me for a long time. And the description of one of architects of the city, Angelo Scott, sounds like he could have been an ancestor of Sam Presti.
But the parts that surprised me the most was the emotions I felt at retelling of the bombing and preceding days of McVeigh. Next, the descriptions of the famous tornadoes that hit in the city in 1999 and 2013. It made me feel physically ill as they came alive through another’s eyes and from the point of view of Gary England. I was never a huge fan of his before, that changed and the story just reiterated my feelings for David Payne. Not good ones.
When the author starts retelling the life cycle of the NBA Thunder seasons, when they were hit with injuries, the trades and treason, I had to put the book down, even though I knew what was going to happen. As an outsider I also felt a bit vindicated for some of the feelings I’ve had over the years. Yes, finally someone else saw what I was watching from afar.
Anderson starts off with the story of the killer of the killer of Jesse James – Red Kelley and jumps almost immediately into the saga of the Beard. The books takes lots of turns and twists with flashbacks to the early days of the land run and statehood, as well as the declines, booms and folly of the government. But woven throughout is the life cycle of the Thunder, mentioning things as fans we’ve never known about and a glimpse of the thinking of the powers that be. It was a fascinating read for me, a person who has never felt like I belonged here. I’m still not sure if I do – but now I can pinpoint some of the reasons why.
The book finally ends on September 29, 2017, another boom day for Oklahoma.