Two seasons ago, the NBA stopped in Oklahoma City and resumed almost three months later in the Orlando Bubble.
Last season, though the Thunder returned to their arena, there were no fans to greet them the length of the season.
This season, the fans will be there, yet only those who observe the protocols the organization announced on Tuesday.
“Beginning Oct. 4, fans entering Paycom Center for Oklahoma City Thunder games will be required to provide proof of either full or partial COVID vaccination or a negative test taken within 72 hours prior to the game,” reads the first sentence of the announcement issued just after noon on Tuesday.
“The Thunder also strongly recommend fans wear face masks while in the arena,” the announcement continued. “The NBA is expected to impose additional guidelines for fans sitting courtside.
“The game entry policy will remain in effect through at least the first 12 games of the preseason and regular season at Paycom Center (Oct. 4-Nov. 26) and will also be in effect for the preseason game on Oct. 14 at BOK Center in Tulsa. The policy will be constantly reviewed based on the status of COVID cases in Oklahoma.”
Paycom Center is the same arena previous called Chesapeake Energy Arena and, prior to that, Ford Center.
The announcement also came with words attributed directly to Thunder chairman Clay Bennett, who heads yhe team’s ownership group.
“As we continue to face serious health challenges from COVID-19, we must remain committed to protecting the health and safety of our community,” said Thunder Chairman Clay Bennett. “While there are no perfect answers, our health experts tell us the vaccine has proven to be effective in slowing the spread of this virus, including the Delta variant,” Bennett said. “We feel the best option to help keep our community safe is to make sure those who attend our games have a reduced chance of contracting or spreading the virus.
“We are in frequent consultation with our partners at OU Health, the NBA and other health experts and organizations to monitor the situation and we plan to evaluate the status of this policy for December and beyond.”
The Thunder play their first preseason game against Charlotte, at home, on Oct. 4. They’re at home again against Denver on Oct. 13, before meeting the Nuggets again, the following evening, in Tulsa.
The regular season begins Oct. 20 at Utah. Two days later, the Thunder visit Houston. Two days after that, Oct. 26, Philadelphia visits Oklahoma City for the Thunder’s home opener, a 6 p.m. Sunday tip.