Boom town The fantastical saga of Oklahoma city, its chaotic founding ... its purloined basketball team, and the dream of becoming a world-class metropolis

Sam Anderson, 1977-

Book - 2018

"Award-winning journalist Sam Anderson's long-awaited debut is a brilliant, kaleidoscopic narrative of Oklahoma City--a great American story of civics, basketball, and destiny. Oklahoma City was born from chaos. It was founded in a bizarre but momentous "Land Run" in 1889, when thousands of people lined up along the borders of Oklahoma Territory and rushed in at noon to stake their claims. Since then, it has been a city torn between the wild energy that drives its outsized ambitions, and the forces of order that seek sustainable progress. Nowhere was this dynamic better realized than in the drama of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team's 2012-13 season, when the Thunder's brilliant general manager, Sam Pre...sti, ignited a firestorm by trading future superstar James Harden just days before the first game. Presti's all-in gamble on "the Process"--The patient, methodical management style that dictated the trade as the team's best hope for long-term greatness--kicked off a pivotal year in the city's history, one that would include pitched battles over urban planning, a series of cataclysmic tornadoes, and the frenzied hope that an NBA championship might finally deliver the glory of which the city had always dreamed. Boom Townannounces the arrival of an exciting literary voice. Sam Anderson, former book critic for New York magazine and now a staffwriter at the New York Times magazine, unfolds an idiosyncratic mix of American history, sports reporting, urban studies, gonzo memoir, and much more to tell the strange but compelling story of an American city whose unique mix of geography and history make it a fascinating microcosm of the democratic experiment. Filled with characters ranging from NBA superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook; to Flaming Lips oddball frontman Wayne Coyne; to legendary Great Plains meteorologist Gary England; to Stanley Draper, Oklahoma City's would-be Robert Moses; to civil rights activist Clara Luper; to the citizens and public servants who survived the notorious 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, Boom Townoffers a remarkable look at the urban tapestry woven from control and chaos, sports and civics"--

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New York : Crown 2018.
Main Author
Sam Anderson, 1977- (author)
Physical Description
pages cm
  • Prologue: Killer Of The Killer
  • Part 1. Time
  • A Visitor's Guide To Oklahoma City
  • Beard
  • Middleness
  • In The Beginning
  • Ewing
  • Operation Bongo
  • Microwave Popcorn
  • Sonicsgate
  • Nooners
  • The First Player
  • In Presti We Trust
  • Prairie Chickens
  • No Beard
  • Part 2. Size
  • Our Holy Chief Meteorologist And Severe Weather Savior
  • The Scars Of A Bloodless Conflict
  • 1 & 3
  • The Death Of Mayor Couch
  • KD Is Nice
  • The Grand Canal
  • Always Trying
  • You Don't Get To Bargain With Me
  • Federal Larceny
  • Game 1: Those Who Sit Beside You
  • Eternal Present
  • Part 3. Color
  • Golden Grenade
  • Game 7: Mr. Oklahoma City
  • Negrophobia
  • Everything Which Makes Life More Livable
  • Kaleidoscopic Sperm Explosions
  • Kiss
  • Taps
  • Rainbow
  • In That Hamburger, The Whole Essence Of Democracy Lies
  • Universal City
  • Pretty Much Centralizing Everything
  • Game 16: Civil War
  • Black Friday
  • Part 4. Distance
  • The Grandest Street This Generation Has Ever Seen
  • Game 31: Kd Is Not Nice
  • Blessed Are The Placemakers
  • Controlled Progressive Collapse
  • Game 46: The Neutrality Of Thabo Sefolosha
  • I Love Capitalism
  • Game 70: Westbrdok, Westbrook, Westbrook, Westbrook, Westbrook
  • The East
  • Game B3: Five Against One
  • We Who Have Long Been Dust Salute You
  • All Your Bad Days Will End
  • The Terror
  • Part 5. Motion
  • Buffalo
  • Our Lifeline Is Concrete
  • Game 84: The Awful Hazard
  • Are Tornadoes Necessary?
  • Solo
  • Together
  • Game 85: Storms
  • 9:02
  • Justice
  • Game 93: That Arm Became A Heavy Arm
  • The Air Smelled Almost Like Fish
  • The Lowerings
  • The Speed Of Shadows
  • Three Epilogues
  • But Still
  • And Then
  • Why Not?
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes On Sources
  • Photo Credits
  • Index
Review by New York Times Review

21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY, by Yuval Noah Harari. (Spiegel & Grau, $28.) This sweeping survey of the modern world by an ambitious and stimulating thinker offers a framework for confronting the fears raised by such major issues as nationalism, immigration, education and religion. PRESIDIO, by Randy Kennedy. (Touchstone, $26.) Vintage Texas noir, this first novel follows the flight to the Mexican border of a car thief turned accidental kidnapper. BOOM TOWN: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis, by Sam Anderson. (Crown, $28.) A vivid, slightly surreal history of "the great minor city of America," starting 500 million years ago and continuing up through Timothy McVeigh, Kevin Durant and the Flaming Lips. FASHION CLIMBING: A Memoir With Photographs, by Bill Cunningham. (Penguin Press, $27.) Discovered after his death, these autobiobraphical essays chart the beloved New York Times photographer's early career as a milliner, fashion reporter and discerning observer of high society. SMALL SMALL FRY, by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. (Grove, $26.) BrenFUY nan-Jobs's memoir of an unstable childhood at the mercy of her depressed, volatile and chronically impoverished mother, on the one hand, and her famous, wealthy and emotionally abusive father, on the other, is a luminous, if deeply disturbing, work of art. CHERRY, by Nico Walker. (Knopf, $26.95.) The incarcerated novelist's debut is a singular portrait of the opioid epidemic and the United States' failure to provide adequate support to veterans. It's full of slapstick comedy, despite gut-clenching depictions of dope sickness, the futility of war and PTSD. OPEN ME, by Lisa Locascio. (Grove, $25.) This debut novel by a lovely, imagistic writer is a subversion of the study-abroad narrative: Instead of being transformed by the external world in Denmark, the narrator dives inward, spending her days discovering the possibilities of her own pleasure. TERRARIUM: New and Selected Stories, by Valerie Trueblood. (Counterpoint, $26.) Urgent, unnerving and tightly packed short fiction that covers enough ground for a library of novels. BUT NOT THE ARMADILLO, written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton. (Simon & Schuster, $5.99; ages 0 to 4.) Boynton's new board book, a follow-up to "But Not the Hippopotamus," stars another creature who'd rather not join in. Some folks just prefer to go their own way - toddlers will understand. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web:

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [August 23, 2019]
Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* In his biography of Oklahoma City (OKC), Anderson posits that the city's auspicious beginning, in the 1889 Land Run, fits almost everything that's happened there since; its development, its approach to business, its recently acquired basketball team, even the way it responds to its unpredictable weather. Anderson's conversational prose and spirited chapters, grouped into sections, are a good match for his information-packed style. In the section Color, for instance, his layer-cake approach stacks racial injustice and civil rights activism in OKC's history; Thunder center Daniel Orton, a hometown player, recalling a racially charged moment in his high-school basketball career; and Wayne Coyne, eccentric front man for the Flaming Lips and legendary lifelong OKC resident, convincing Anderson to help him add a literal rainbow to the city's streets overnight. The book's final section covers the devastating 1995 bombing of the Federal Building, tornadoes sweeping the area with increasing force over the last two decades, and the Thunder's explosive wins and stunning losses. Reading Anderson's time-traveling, civics-minded, and thoroughly person-focused story of OKC, one gets the feeling that his research didn't uncover a single fact that he could keep to himself, and his enthusiasm for the city's singularity and the implications of it is beyond infectious.--Annie Bostrom Copyright 2018 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Library Journal Review

On the morning of April 22, 1889, what is today Oklahoma City was virgin territory, formerly occupied by now displaced Native Americans. By nightfall, as the result of the free land giveaway that was the Great Oklahoma Land Run, up to 10,000 settlers milled among tents, sleeping bags, beasts of burden, and wagons. All did not go as expected for many of these new landowners, however, and within a year the infant city's population had dwindled by more than half. Thus, began the cycles of boom and bust that have marked the city's history. In 2012, Anderson (New York Times Magazine) was sent to cover the rising NBA stars of the Oklahoma City Thunder and quickly discerned a juxtaposition between the team and its boom or bust hometown. This book offers his take on the histories of both, rendered through research, copious interviews, and a sharp eye for the quirky. VERDICT Written with style and amazingly good humor, considering the hopes blooming and dashed nature of both city and team, this should please a wide range of readers, from basketball fans to historians to city planners.-Jim Burns, formerly with Jacksonville P.L., FL © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An irreverent look at one of the nation's quirkier cities, "one of the great weirdo cities of the world.""In the larger economy of American attention," writes Anderson, "Oklahoma City's main job has always been to be ignored." The author, a winner of a National Magazine Award, seeks to rectify this popular neglect via a rollicking history of the nation's 27th-largest city. Founded in one day in 1889, Oklahoma City has garnered a reputation for violence (its first mayor died of a gunshot wound), chaotic weather (the first photograph of a tornado was taken there), and grandiose, outsized ambition (its Will Rogers World Airport has no international flights). Anderson helpfully profiles several of the residents and leaders who have given the city its unique character, including civil rights activist Clara Luper, legendary weatherman Gary England, and Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne. But the book centers on the Oklahoma City Thunder, the NBA team formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics. Led by the supremely talented duo of Russell Westbrook (an enigmatic, hellbent-for-leather point guard) and Kevin Durant (a quietly efficient scoring machine), the Thunder reached the Finals in 2012 only to regress in subsequent years, culminating in a heartbreaking defeat in the 2016 playoffs at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, with whom Durant subsequently signed as a free agent. Anderson toggles between recent Thunder seasons and the history of Oklahoma City, portraying the team's highs and lows as symbols of the town's boom-and-bust story. Unquestionably, the residents have forged a deep bond with the Thunder. In one of the book's more touching moments, Anderson interviews an Oklahoma Supreme Court justice who notes how the arrival of the franchise in 2008 helped to heal the figurative wounds inflicted by the terrorist bombing 13 years earlier.Anderson's back-and-forth style is challenging, and he has an unfortunate penchant for gratuitous profanity. Nevertheless, he provides an entertaining history of a city that, for all its booms and busts, is never boring. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A Visitor's Guide to Oklahoma City Welcome to Oklahoma City. It's been a long day. You've taken two flights to get here, possibly three. You've eaten unfortunate foods. You fell asleep at the Memphis airport, somehow, with your head leaning hard against the wall--you slept so deeply that the woman working at the gate had to actually come shake you awake just before the plane took off. Don't be embarrassed. It's all part of the long, unglamorous process of getting yourself to a minor airport out in the middle of the country. But now you've made it. Welcome. Come along. Stretch your legs. The OKC airport is small, so you'll have no trouble finding your way around. First, get yourself a car. You won't be able to survive here without one. Go to the rental desk. The clerk will be curious to know why you are here, all the way from wherever you have come; tell him. If the conversation lulls, you can talk about the Thunder. (He will be a fan.) He might ask you about the James Harden crisis. Will Harden stay or will he go? Tell him that no one knows for sure, obviously, but that if you had to bet, you'd bet he'll stay. The young man will encourage you to pay an extra $10 per day to upgrade to a Mustang--a special deal, he'll tell you--but do your best to resist the temptation, because when you get out to the parking garage you'll suddenly remember what a Mustang looks like: like a shark, with a fat snout, bullet-nosed and swaggering. Politely refuse, and collect the keys to some kind of nondescript sedan. Walk out of the terminal. On your way out you'll see a statue: Will Rogers, the folksy sage of the Great Plains, cast in bronze, wearing a bronze cowboy hat, riding a bronze horse, with a bronze lasso frozen in the air beside him. The whole airport is named after him: Will Rogers World Airport. "World" is meaningless here because there are actually no international flights. It's just another example of one of Oklahoma City's defining behaviors: trying to make itself seem bigger than it is. The city conducts itself, whenever possible, like a hiker threatened by a bear in the woods, hysterically exaggerating its size. Before you move on, take a moment to stop and look at the Will Rogers statue. (Now is perhaps not the time to think about the fact that Will Rogers died in a plane crash.) Here is another peculiarity of arriving in Oklahoma City: the statue will always be the same, but the sky over it will always be different. Most places have one sky; Oklahoma City has about twelve. There seem to be many different vectors up there, completely unrelated to one another, happening all at once. Sometimes you'll see silent lightning blinking, very high, in one region, while smooth white clouds slide around lowly behind you. Will Rogers's lasso, if you look through it, might be holding the sun, might be holding some ragged cirrus clouds, might be holding a volcanic piece of dusk. Once you've come to grips with the sky, move on from the statue, walk into the parking garage, pick up your rental car, steer it out onto the streets. Congratulations: you are now driving in Oklahoma City, an activity as characteristic as poling a gondola around Venice or weaving a moped through the crowds of central Marrakech. You have driven cars elsewhere, but it will never have felt exactly like this. Oklahoma City is the natural habitat of cars. In normal cities, cars feel slightly out of place, like zoo animals, pacing narrow roads between mobs of gawking pedestrians. Here in Oklahoma City, cars can stretch, roar, and run free. Many of the city's neighborhoods lack sidewalks, intentionally, as a symbol of status, because walking was considered to be outmoded, primitive, impoverished, a little sad, an activity that might even distract the cars, or offend them. You will hear, while you are here, two basic axioms about driving in OKC, each of which seems to violate the laws of space-time, but each of which is true: 1. Even traffic jams move the speed limit. 2. Everywhere is only fifteen minutes away. Drive. The airport roads are nice and new. They take you out under the wide skies. You are moving like a smooth cloud. You will notice, out your windows, that Oklahoma City has no topography to speak of: everything is flat in every direction. This is because it was once the bottom of an ancient ocean. Keep looking around. Before you've even left the airport, you will see oil pumps working along the side of the road. Oklahoma is completely devoted to sucking fossil fuels up out of the ground, and unembarrassed about its devotion. How else would it be possible to enable all of this wonderful driving? You will pass billboards for drilling equipment, and when you get into town you will see active oil pumps in people's backyards. The state capitol building had a working oil derrick in front of it for many decades before it even had a dome. Keep driving. Leave the airport, merge onto the freeway, head toward the city center. There are signs, but you won't need them: you can navigate by the skyscraper--skyscraper, singular, because there is, by modern standards, only the one, and it is so completely out of scale to the rest of the city that you can see it from everywhere else. It is nearly twice as tall as any other structure for one hundred miles in every direction. It dominates downtown, glittering like an open blade. This is the Devon Tower, headquarters of one of OKC's biggest energy companies, a glass-and-steel monument to the miracle of hydraulic fracturing, a.k.a. "fracking," the lucrative but controversial practice of destroying underground rock formations with a slurry of wet chemicals in order to release huge quantities of natural gas. But don't worry about the source of the wealth. You are here to enjoy Oklahoma City, the newly shiny center of which you are rapidly approaching. The skyscraper was meant to make the city seem big, but mostly it makes everything around it look small: thick, stocky, ancient, heavy, extremely midwestern. It is perfect, however, for navigation. Ignore your GPS. It can't help you now. Keep your eye on the skyscraper. OKC is in the midst of a downtown renaissance, a growth whose improbability--after decades of busts and self-inflicted disappointments and unspeakable tragedies--has made the place almost legendary among contemporary American cities, and one result of this renaissance is constant construction. Streets are being rerouted, public art installed, medians expensively landscaped. Competing energy companies are building themselves increasingly grand headquarters. The old elevated highway that has loomed, for nearly fifty years, over the center of the city is now in the midst of being torn down. Its on-ramps and off-ramps end, eerily, in midair--entrances and exits to a ghost road that your GPS will keep trying to make you drive on. Ignore it. Drive on the actual roads. You'll cross over the Oklahoma River, healthy and full, although it is not, technically, a river anymore, because it has been corralled in a concrete trough that is fed and drained by dams at either end, which makes it more like a canal, really, or an inland lake. But at least now it is full of water, more dependable than the natural river, and as such it has become the anchor of a whole new area of town: the Boathouse District, which draws competitive rowers from all over the world, and which is getting ready to host an episode of American Idol. As you drive over the water, you might see Olympic kayakers training. Keep driving. Now that you're in Oklahoma City, it won't take you long to get to know the basic landmarks. You'll see signs for the tourist destinations: Bricktown, Stockyards City, Myriad Botanical Gardens, Chesapeake Energy Arena, the National Memorial. Everything is more or less right on top of everything else. Neighborhoods that sound like whole separate regions (Automobile Alley, Midtown, SoSA) are really just a few blocks apart. You could walk it all easily, if that's how things were done here. The Plaza District, one of the city's much-touted hip new neighborhoods, is basically two blocks of Sixteenth Street. Oklahoma City is tiny and huge at the same time, sprawling and compressed. Residents often refer to it as "the biggest small town in America," and that might be literally true. Although its population ranks only twenty-ninth in the contiguous United States, it is an absolute juggernaut in square mileage--bigger, by far, than Los Angeles or New York or Chicago. Drive for fifteen minutes in any direction and the city will begin to blend with the country. You'll think you've left town, but you haven't. Not even close. It will take many more miles of driving, much more open country, before you'll see a sign that says, out of nowhere, leaving oklahoma city. But let's not do that. Why would we do that? This is Oklahoma City. Settle in. We'll be here for a while. Beard The first time I saw James Harden up close, I was hypnotized by his beard. It was dense and black and shockingly large--a whole second head, practically, hanging under Harden's regular head: a shadow head. I stared and stared. This was October 2012, during Thunder training camp--a hinge moment, although we didn't know it yet, on which the future of Oklahoma City was right about to turn. Harden was talking (there was a hole in the middle of his beard for his mouth), but I could hardly pay attention to what he was saying because the beard, up close, was overwhelming, a real ninety-ninth-percentile super-mammalian face bush. A slow-motion testosterone explosion. I had seen it many times before, of course, on screens. Harden was one of the NBA's rising young stars, and the Thunder was one of the great stories in all of professional sports, and so his beard had become, over the previous months, not only a local folk hero and symbol of the OKC renaissance but a full‑on international brand, one of America's most famous hair things. (There was a new Foot Locker commercial in which Harden's teammate Russell Westbrook squirted mustard on it, only for Harden to rip the beard off to reveal, underneath, another equally lush backup beard.) In person, however, the beard was something else entirely, more urgent and commanding and strange. It was wet from practice, and as Harden spoke it shifted and glistened, scattering tiny sparkles in every direction. Harden was, at that moment, one of the youngest members of one of the youngest basketball teams in NBA history, a team that had improved so much, so quickly, over the previous few seasons that it seemed destined soon to devour the league. The question, in those days, was not if the Thunder would win a championship, only of how many times. The previous season had been almost impossibly glorious: a 16-3 start, two players (the angelic Kevin Durant, the devilish Russell Westbrook) honored with selection to All-NBA Teams, a Sixth Man of the Year Award for Harden, and all of it capped off by an underdog run to the NBA Finals. In July, all three of the Thunder's young stars were chosen to represent the United States in the Olympics, making OKC the first franchise in NBA history to send three players to the U.S. national team. There was no reason, going forward, for anything other than wild optimism. Unless, of course--unless. Unless James Harden. Harden and his beard were standing, on that afternoon, in the Thunder's new and extremely shiny $19 million practice facility. I was part of a large crowd of reporters, local and national, who had assembled to ask him questions. We were hoping to extract some new shred of intel, however small, about what was beginning to be thought of, in OKC and beyond, as the Harden crisis. Would James Harden stay with the Thunder, everyone was asking, or would he go find his own team somewhere else? This threat had become, slowly, the story of the summer--it had begun to overshadow even the euphoric afterglow of that magical trip to the Finals. The citizens of OKC were terrified, suddenly, that Harden was going to leave them. "I wouldn't take anyone in the league over the Beard," wrote a fan on the discussion board OKCTalk. "I will trade in all of my Thunder gear and wipe my memory of Thunder games if that happens." What we knew, so far, was only this: James Harden was an unorthodox and magnetic young player, far better than anyone had reasonably expected, and his sudden rise toward stardom had elevated the Thunder from a very good team to a potentially great one. But it had also complicated things. Harden came off the bench behind the exotic Swiss defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha. The problem was that Harden was clearly too good to be a backup. He was a precious node of order among the chaos of an NBA game. You could give him the ball and get out of the way and trust him, almost every time, to do something dangerous with it. But the Thunder already had two ball-dominating stars in Westbrook and Durant. Was there really room for a third? Harden's rookie contract was set to expire at the end of the coming season, in the summer of 2013, but everyone expected him to solve things much sooner than that, like any second now, in the offseason of 2012, to keep the Thunder's momentum rolling. The early signs were good. "This team is like a family," Harden said, right after the Finals ended. "We're really brothers. We hang out most of the time every single day. You won't find any other team like this. I love it here." And yet the weeks passed, and the Thunder took care of all kinds of other business--the draft, a contract extension for their head coach--and still Harden's new deal did not get signed. The team picked up the seven-foot-three Hasheem Thabeet, the tallest man in the NBA, as their backup center. They extended the contract of their power forward, Serge Ibaka, and filled front-office positions. And yet they could not pin down James Harden. As the summer churned on, people in OKC remained optimistic. In July, at Team USA training camp, Sports Illustrated asked Harden about his plans. "I'm pretty--a hundred percent--I'm pretty sure that I'm going to be in Oklahoma City," he said. This was meant to be reassuring, but there was a large difference between "pretty" and "a hundred percent," and much of OKC's basketball future now lived in that zone. A Thunder blog, Welcome to Loud City, ran a poll about Harden's future, and 80 percent of respondents predicted that he would stay--that he either "remains 6th man and keeps the Thunder as the most balanced team in the NBA" or "moves to the starting SG position and continues his ascent." The two pessimistic options, that Harden would refuse to sign or that OKC would trade him, sank right to the bottom, tied with only thirteen votes apiece. Excerpted from Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis by Sam Anderson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.