Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Return of Darth Durant

In the 2007 NBA draft the Seattle Supersonics had the second overall pick. The two primo choices were Ohio State center, Greg Oden and a long skinny kid who had played one year at Texas named Kevin Durant.

Rumors were Durant fared poorly in front of the scouts when it came to strength. He had ankles which were barely the circumference of your average toothpick--in short he looked breakable. Oden on the other hand was massive, ripped with muscles, as wide as a nuclear submarine, and possessed a mug which looked to be straight out of a Stan Lee super villains line up.

Portland had the first pick that year and not a person in the world blamed them when they chose Oden. The Supersonics went with Durant, then in 2008 got the hell out of Seattle and settled in Oklahoma City. The same year, Greg Oden suffered the first of a never ending series of injuries and is now considered one of the greatest busts in pro basketball history.

The relocated Sonics were christened the Thunder and they shed the green and gold colors for sky blue, orange, and black. Durant along with Russell, the flash, Westbrook, and James, the beard, Harden became the heart and soul of a young and upcoming NBA power.

They could run like the wind and when they were hot from the field there wasn't a defense in the league who could shut them down. Oklahoma City, which was and in many ways remains, a college sports town, went ape for all three and the team as a whole. Civic pride and morale soared.

The enthusiasm displayed in the Chesapeake Arena by Thunder fans stunned and even perplexed those jaded souls who had covered the NBA for years. When a final shot went awry and the team lost game six and a 2010 playoff series to the Lakers, the entire crowd of 18,203 rose and gave them a standing ovation. It isn't something you witness in other pro sports venues.

Unfortunately NBA business reality intruded on all the giddiness. In late October, 2012 the OKC fan base was told the team had traded Harden to Houston for no other reason than to save the luxury tax they would have incurred if they had kept him.

Then, as 2016 rolled around, Durant's contract was expiring. During the months leading up to the date road side billboards were erected all over town imploring him to stay with the team. Despite this outward angst most of the populace doubted he'd bolt for somewhere else. However, to the city's horror, on a sweltering 4th of July, he did indeed bolt to the already loaded, Golden State Warriors.

For the collective psyche of Oklahoma City it was that terrible moment when young Anakin Skywalker morphed into Darth Vader. The masses began to rend garments and gnash their teeth. Shouts of treason rang through the streets. Old men pounded their fists on bar tops as they drank heavily and children wept.

The loss of Harden was one thing, after all the team, not the player, ultimately made the choice. Kevin Durant, on the other hand, betrayed the community he had seemed to be so deeply a part of for a quick and easy championship ring. It appeared, at least to the locals, the move was not only coldly mercenary, but exposed his reputed dedication to the town as a cruel sham. Durant understood completely what the city's reaction would be. Within days after his announcement his Bricktown neighborhood restaurant shut its doors for good.

Tonight, for the first time, he returns with his new team. The odds are overwhelming that the reception he'll get will be exceedingly ugly. He realizes this too. Reports are he has requested extra security for himself and any of his entourage who might accompany him.

There are only two NBA markets smaller than OKC's. None are newer. There isn't another team in the state which competes in what is considered the four major pro sports. In other words, Durant's exit was an extreme personal affront to just about everyone who lives between Wichita and the Red River.

The teams have met out on the west coast twice this year. The Warriors won both and neither game was particularly close. It might be easy to write this one off also, but as wounded as they are there is still some sting left in the Thunder. Thursday night they took out Lebron James and the Cavs.

Yes, sometimes the home court does mean something. Tonight we'll find out for sure, because the one thing we can be certain of is there won't be a silent voice in the house. At least not while Kevin Wayne Durant is on the floor.

sic vita est


1 comment:

  1. It's a business, and everyone should understand that. Don't fall in love with a player like we did back in the days of Mickey Mantle, because very few stick with the same team for a whole career. The Thunder is not to pro basketball what OU is to college football, everyone should understand that, too, and your observation that OKC is basically a college town is a good one. But, I think any superstar player would do well to stick with the team where he became a superstar. Do you think Tom Brady will ever miss a meal in Boston, should he be short of pocket change? He will own that town for the rest of his life. For Durant, he may one day wish his post-career opportunities were what they would have been had he remained in OKC.