Ibaka Chewbacca


Whenever I was in college my friend Cal and I would watch Thunder games in our hallway of a house. It was on Pottenger street, just off campus. The walls were thin and once, after a Marion Barber touchdown, I chest bumped a hole underneath the thermostat. Everybody else was chest bumping each other and I didn’t want to wait for a chest to present itself to me. Take what’s yours.

There was an abandoned house to the left of ours and the grass grew much too high there and sometimes the neighbors’ children from two doors down would wake us up on Saturdays with their shouting, running around on our back porch. They’d usually be in their underwear. Sometimes they’d be naked. The university owned the house and there was no fence. There were just weeds and ants and a heater whose pilot light hated us and decided to die a couple times a winter.

We had a huge, hulking tree in the backyard — never bothered figuring out what kind — and the branches of it hung low and hovered over the ground. When the ground was soft enough we’d dig out a pit underneath the tree and build a fire there. Play six degrees of separation from whatever actor someone named. You couldn’t use any of the Oceans movies. That made it too easy. We could toss a plastic bottle from our front porch and hit the campus security building and once, when it snowed, we assaulted several officers with a flurry of snowballs. They chased us for awhile.

At nights during the basketball season we would lounge in the living room, one of us on the couch, the other in the recliner, and we’d watch games. Cal was a Mavs fan from birth — shouts to the Meridian, TX Yellow Jackets — but we were in college in Oklahoma and that meant the one option you had for any non-nationally televised games was FS Oklahoma. Brian Davis and Grant Long. Ed’s Tires commercials. Covers of someone who wasn’t Garth Brooks singing “The Thunder Rolls”.

Thunder games were aplenty and I’d like to think he grew to like them almost as much as the Mavericks for a brief time. He went to a game at The Building Formerly Known As The Ford Center and the organization had passed out orange towels to all the fans. They’d laid them out on the backs of all the seats. “Rise Together,” they’d said in navy ink. He brought it home and we put it up in our living room. It hung down from the ceiling, this bright orange Starburst of a square, and the words faced the television so the team on the TV could see where our allegiances lay.

Those were the days when the Thunder were first coming up and every win was a surprise. When they played the Lakers in the playoffs in 2010 we’d have watch parties at the house. If everyone in the Ford Center was wearing blue, you had to wear blue at the house. White, same story. We were good fans. We’d provide you with a shirt of that color if you were dumb enough to arrive without one. If the Thunder went on a run everyone had to remain in the exact seat and spot they were in at the start of the run. It was a played up version of those Bud Light NFL commercials from this past season where the Broncos scored while the dude was grabbing beers from the basement fridge and decided he could best help his team win by not watching. Understand, just didn’t want to let the juice die.

We were very active. Very present. Very loud, probably if only for the sake of having something to be loud about. Something about college makes you want to yell whenever you can. But we watched those games and went berserk when the moment called for it. When Russ dunked on Odom I suppose we turned the house inside-out a little bit. It’s a wonder another hole wasn’t created.

In a desperate attempt to give this some semblance of timeliness, I’ll say I loved those games. I loved the environment we gave ourselves to watch them in and oftentimes, when I’m watching Thunder games today, I think back to how those were the funnest fan moments I’ve had. Just friends rallying together to cheer for the same thing because it’s better that way. No need for someone to go contrarian and cheer for the other squad. It was just sports, but it was fun.

Ibaka’s name is weird enough that it sounds like a few different things. I used to yell his name like a pirate. Lean into the “rrrr” sound. Get that last “ka” to pop real nice. It was a very stupid tribute, but one I became married to. It became a real Pavlov’s dog situation. Ibaka made a big play, “Serrrrge Iiibakaaaaaa.” Couldn’t keep myself from doing it.

Cal’s was better. He just growled like Chewbacca. Every time. Wish I’d have recorded it.

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