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Tulsa's playoff berth is bittersweet for Shock fans

Odyssey Sims scored 30 points as the Shock clinched the franchise's first playoff berth since 2009. Shane Bevel/NBAE/Getty Images

TULSA, Okla. -- With a minute left in Sunday's game, Tulsa Shock forward Plenette Pierson motioned to the fans at the BOK Center. They got to their feet and cheered on their Shock to a 76-70 victory over the Indiana Fever and the franchise's first playoff berth since moving to Oklahoma in 2010.

And I felt like giving the crowd a standing ovation.

Yes, this is "their" Shock, at least for the rest of this season. Then the franchise will move to Dallas, home of majority owner Bill Cameron. So for Tulsa fans, isn't this like deciding to stay friends with someone who broke up with you? Isn't it the very definition of bittersweet, to celebrate -- finally -- a playoff berth when you know after that, it's goodbye?

Here's to you, Tulsa fans. Yes, you deserve better. Many of you sat through five seasons of losing, including a 3-31 record in 2011. You've sat through seeing a successful men's college coach (Nolan Richardson) who was out of his element in the women's pro game. You sat through watching the lack of commitment from 2011's No. 2 draft pick, Liz Cambage of Australia, who didn't want to be here -- and actually rarely has been.

You sat through the excitement of seeing the Skylar Diggins-led squad race to a 8-1 record to start this season. ("I almost didn't think we were going to lose another game," Diggins said Sunday. "As unrealistic as that sounds, I just thought our chemistry was that great.")

Then you sat through the season-ending knee injury to Diggins on June 28, and a subsequent 10-game losing streak that seemed like it would torpedo this last hope for a postseason spot while the Shock were still in town.

But then, Sunday, you got up out of your seats to help carry the Shock to their 15th victory this season. That put the little "x" next to their name in the standings, which means "clinched playoff berth."

Guard Odyssey Sims, who has battled her own injury issues this year, had a terrific game: 30 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field and 12-of-12 perfection from the line. With fellow guard Riquna Williams, the team's leading scorer coming into Sunday, missing all but seven minutes with a calf injury, all the more pressure was on Sims.

"It's been quite a ride, I can tell you that. But we just stayed strong for one another," Sims said of this season. "Although we've had injuries, we're just trying to make sure we have each other's backs. We're really trying to not let everything else -- all the distractions -- bother us."

Which is a hard thing to do when one of the "distractions" is the impending journey of moving trucks heading south to Dallas. Or, to be specific, Arlington, Texas, where the Shock will play next season. The team found out in July that Cameron, against the wishes of most of the minority owners, was moving the franchise.

That news prompted me to write one of the more conflicted columns I've ever produced. On one hand, I stated I was hopeful of success in a big-city market in a state with such strong women's and girls' basketball history. But at the same time, I lamented that it came at the expense of Tulsa's fans.

A few people understandably e-mailed/tweeted me to ask, "So, what the heck are you saying? It's a good thing? A bad thing? Both? Neither? You can't make up your mind?"

And the answer is ... pretty much of all of the above. The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is a pro-sports saturated market, obviously. The Shock will never be front-page news the way they can be Tulsa. The move might not work out.

"It's the final year here in Tulsa. But you know what? It's the best year." Shock forward Plenette Pierson

But by the same token, it might, and the hope for that is what made me feel positive about the move. Not to mention, frankly, that news of a move -- rather than a franchise folding -- generally comes as a great relief for all of us who've watched the WNBA since its inception in 1997.

At the same time, though, I've always wanted to believe in Tulsa and smaller markets also being a viable option in the WNBA. I had seen the Tulsa fans' response at Shock games over the first five years: How they stayed engaged even in the worst of times, how they found things to cheer about, which took some doing.

Sunday, I spoke with various people around the BOK Center -- from a security guard who said she'll probably try to make the trip to Arlington to see the Shock a few times, to a six-year season ticket-holder who's not sure what his commitment will be going forward.

"I'm disappointed," said Bythe Boyd, a Tulsa-based fan who loves basketball in general and has supported the Shock since they moved here. "I think that the first couple of years, the owners didn't treat this as really legitimate. Now that they've got a good team, moving it to Dallas for more sponsorships or whatever, I just feel bad for Tulsa.

"I think if you ask any fans here, that's how they feel. I'll be here for the playoffs. I have mixed emotions about next year. I've thought about going down to Dallas to watch them play, but on the other hand, I think maybe I'll just watch on TV. I'm undecided. I don't know if I'll be a Shock fan, per se. I think I'll follow some of the players, but in general follow the game. I'll still be a WNBA fan."

Actually, I understand how he and other Shock fans feel. I grew up a fan of the football Cardinals in St. Louis; they were a big part of my childhood and young adulthood. Throughout the 1987 season, all Cardinals fans knew the end was near, and that owner Bill Bidwill would be moving the team.

Still, on Dec. 13, 1987, I was one of the 29,623 fans at the old Busch Stadium cheering on the Cardinals in their 27-24 victory over the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants. I remember watching the team leave the field in the chilly Sunday twilight, feeling melancholy because I was saying farewell to something that had been important to me.

Did I become an Arizona Cardinals fan? No. It just wasn't the same thing.

Admittedly, the Cardinals (who had moved to St. Louis from Chicago) were in the Gateway City for 28 seasons. The Shock have been here in Tulsa for only six. But attachments to teams can form quickly. And, let's face it, no matter how long or short an attachment, it hurts to be dumped.

Tulsa coach Fred Williams -- who came out of the Shock locker room Sunday shivering a bit after a celebratory drenching -- has been helping his team stay focused on what they can control. The players have bought into that. He is proud of them, and so are the fans.

But it was impossible not to see Sunday's postgame scene as both happy and sad: Pierson addressing the crowd after the victory and thanking them for their support, but everyone knowing that it wasn't enough to keep the franchise here.

Pierson, who had 11 points Sunday, is the player who has lived more of the Shock's history than any other; she was on two championship teams when the franchise was still in Detroit. She's from Houston, played collegiately at Texas Tech, and is optimistic about another WNBA team joining San Antonio in the Lone Star State.

But Sunday, she wasn't thinking about 2016 or any fans except those right here, right now in Tulsa. It's not as if the Shock players or coaching staff have any say about the team relocating. They simply have to accept it. That said, Pierson, Sims, Williams and Diggins all spoke about wanting to make the playoffs for the people in Tulsa who have supported them. A parting gift, if you will.

"So be it -- it's the final year here in Tulsa," Pierson said. "But you know what? It's the best year."