Before Kevin Durant, there was Chris Paul and a town in need of a team

A decade has passed since the New Orleans Hornets played its final game in Oklahoma City.

The circumstances were not ideal in how the Hornets ended up in Oklahoma for two seasons, but the city was thrilled to give the franchise and soon-to-be superstar Chris Paul a temporary home.

I can’t lie, the Hornets hold a special place in my heart. Even as a lifelong San Antonio Spurs fan, the Hornets reinforced the love for basketball I developed at an early age. Oklahoma City was, at best, a pit stop for preseason NBA games, so to get a team to play in Oklahoma City’s then-named Ford Center 41 nights a year was an amazing factor in the city’s renaissance.

I was fortunate enough my family went in on season tickets for the 2006-07 season and even more fortunate to go to a majority of the games.

Then-Denver Nuggets guard Allen Iverson, right, faces New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets guard Chris Paul on April 13, 2007, in Oklahoma City at the Ford Center.

I recently was looking through old photos, and I found shots of Allen Iverson, Eduardo Najera and Carmelo Anthony in Denver Nuggets jerseys. I saw grainy, out-of-focus stills of Chris Paul and David West donning a special Hornets jersey with ‘Oklahoma City’ on the front. I also saw a picture of me at age 12 as happy as can be — despite wearing a poorly-designed “OKC loves NBA” t-shirt that I’m pretty sure made its way to a local Goodwill store a few years ago.

The photos were from the Hornets’ April 13, 2007, contest against the Nuggets — the last game the Hornets played in Oklahoma City before relocating back to their rightful home.

The city itself has come along way since the Hornets’ departure, adding the Oklahoma City Thunder and hosting countless playoff games and the NBA Finals in 2012.

I can’t help but wonder what the city would be like if the Hornets decided (for whatever reason) to stay in Oklahoma City permanently. Chris Paul was a great face for the town for two years. I’m not quite sure how the city would’ve handled his eventual departure to Los Angeles if things shook out the same way.

The Hornets’ two seasons were a monumental time in Oklahoma’s history of sports. For once, it felt like Oklahoma City was a big-time city, although the well of jokes that “there’s nothing to do in Oklahoma” never seems to dry out.

I mean, people aren’t wrong. The state isn’t one huge, thriving metropolis. It has its dead spots and endless stretches of flat land. But Oklahoma City has come a long way since it inherited teal and gold for two years and then got its own set of team colors.

While I’m not a Thunder fan, I enjoy what the team represents. Oklahoma City’s renaissance has been a joy to watch firsthand. 2007 might only be a decade ago, but the city is lightyears ahead of where it was before the Hornets came.

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