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Early Tuesday morning, Oklahoma City shivered to the lowest recorded temperature since statehood. Soon thereafter, the Southwest Power Pool, which manages the electric grid for Oklahoma, among other states, declared a Level 3 energy emergency alert, subjecting large swaths of the state to temporary service interruptions (i.e. rolling blackouts). The historic demand for electricity resulted in energy and government officials, including Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, asking everyone to conserve energy by lowering thermostats and not use major appliances.
Thanks to these conservation efforts, the SPP lowered its EEA to Level 1, but at an afternoon news conference, Lanny Nickell, Chief Operating Officer of the SPP, said that energy consumption would pick up into Tuesday evening, putting significant stress on the electric grid. “It’s possible we can be back in this situation [with temporary service interruptions] later tonight,” Nickell said.
Through it all, the Oklahoma City Thunder faced off against the Portland Trailblazers at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The game itself was worth watching, as OKC overcame a 24-point deficit and briefly took a lead before ultimately falling 115-104. Lu Dort played well, leading the team with 23 points while hounding Damian Lillard. Surging sixth man Hamidou Diallo added 17. But watching an NBA game proceeding almost normally while the rest of the city feared another blackout in freezing temperatures just didn’t seem right.
Acknowledging the situation, the Thunder and ASM Global, which manages the ‘Peake, made an effort to reduce consumption by turning off non-essential items. That doesn’t change the fact that the 581,000 square foot facility, lacking any fans, was sucking juice from an electric grid stretched to its limit so that a basketball game could be played.
In fact, as the game was being played, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission voted 2-1 to direct utility companies to divert power from businesses to prioritize health and safety. “This is a dire situation,” Brandy Wreath, Director of Public Utilities said during the meeting.
Per a statement to The Oklahoman from Thunder Vice President Dan Mahoney, the decision to proceed rested “solely with the NBA.” But no matter who was responsible, the wrong decision was made. The game should’ve been postponed.
I get that there are logistical challenges to rescheduling the game, not to mention the Blazers were already in OKC ready to play. Those challenges, however, should’ve been secondary to the challenges of life-threatening cold coupled with limited electricity to go around.
Despite the NBA being a leader in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic–the first professional sports league to shut down, and the league that closed out a season in a bubble environment with no COVID spread–the NBA let Oklahoma down by refusing to make the responsible and, frankly, obvious decision to postpone an NBA game at an electricity-hogging arena in the midst of an unprecedented winter event.
Hopefully the electric grid isn’t stretched to the point where more power outages are necessary. If so, we can thank all of the people who support the grid and those who are doing their part to reduce consumption.
But don’t thank the NBA. It didn’t do its part.