Originally Posted: September 20, 2018
In 1990, United Airlines was in search of a home for its new repair center. Dazzled by the prospect of 8,000 new jobs and $700 million in revenue, Oklahoma City launched an aggressive campaign to lure the facility. To help fund some of the incentives used to tempt the company, residents agreed to a $120 million tax hike. Boosters took out an ad on a billboard outside United’s Chicago headquarters imploring the airline to “Come Fly the Friendly Skies of Oklahoma City.” But in the end Indianapolis won the day. As Sam Anderson writes in “Boom Town”—a book about the city’s “chaotic founding, its apocalyptic weather, its purloined basketball team, and the dream of becoming a world-class metropolis”—United’s CEO conceded that while Oklahoma City’s proposal was easily the best of the lot, the city lost out because “United could not imagine making its employees live there.” Thanks for playing.
Civic redemption wouldn’t come for another two decades, arriving with the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team, which in 2008 relocated from Seattle (where it was known as the SuperSonics). The Thunder’s swift success instilled fierce pride in a city desperate to be taken seriously. In braiding together these two narratives—the weird and often sordid history of what Mr. Anderson calls “the great minor city of America” and the story of its hijacked NBA team—“Boom Town” serves as a guidebook to a corner of America by turns utterly unfamiliar and easily recognizable.
Mr. Anderson came to see just how closely Oklahoma City and its new sports franchise resemble each other when he visited the city in 2012 on assignment for the New York Times Magazine, where he is a staff writer. He found the parallels striking, especially the churning cycles of boom and bust. READ MORE