No. 1: Oklahoma City Thunder

Ultimate Standings 2012

Updated: September 6, 2012, 7:11 PM ET
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine

Last year's rank: 6
Title track: 39
Ownership: 8
Coaching: 22
Players: 2
Fan relations: 2
Affordability: 5
Stadium experience: 16
Bang for the buck: 7

Like other teams that always rank near the top of our Ultimate Standings -- the Spurs and Packers, Angels and Red Wings -- the Oklahoma City Thunder deliver lots of wins, amped by hugely enjoyable game days, at reasonable prices. They're also incredibly young. At 23, Kevin Durant is actually the oldest of the four players who led the Thunder in minutes last season, highlighting the fact that this club has established its long-term commitment to fans in just a handful of seasons. And they're easy to love at a distance too. In our fan voting, Oklahoma City not only was No. 1 in the NBA in having a fan-friendly environment but ranked first among all teams in engaging fans through social media and in connecting fans to information online or via mobile devices. In the 43rd-largest metro area in the U.S., but with fans all over the middle of the country, the Thunder have more than 1.5 million Facebook fans and, according to Social Media Today, lead the NBA in Twitter engagement. So yes, the Thunder's owners were wrong to abandon Seattle the way they did four years ago. But in the here and now, through geographical necessity, smart management and hellaciously fun play, Oklahoma City is doing a better job than any other sports franchise of turning fans into family.

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.