The world needs another article about Kevin Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma City for Golden State like the Warriors need another three-point shooter, but regardless, now that I’m back from vacation I feel compelled to write something.
As an adult in my forties, I don’t believe anything any celebrity says, ever. When you’ve watched the President of the United States lie to the entire country on television under oath about not having a sexual relationship with his intern, why should we believe anything anyone else has to say? Musicians routinely cancel concerts due to exhaustion (read: drug overdoses) and “happily married” Hollywood couples get divorced every day. I put as much stock in the evening news as I do the National Enquirer. Entertainment reporting has always been more about entertainment than reporting, and once you reach my age, it’s not even that entertaining.
Ever since the Thunder spectacularly imploded during this year’s playoff run (blowing a 3-1 game lead against the Golden State Warriors), rumors began to swirl that Kevin Durant — our hero — might leave Oklahoma City. These rumors sparked a lot of online speculation and local watercooler talk, but for me personally, it caused my two kids — one of whom has his entire bathroom decorated in Oklahoma City Thunder memorabilia — to ask me what Kevin Durant was going to do.
Now of course I don’t own a crystal ball (and surprisingly my tweets to Number 35 went unanswered), but I did have some good information to go on. Based on what I know about Kevin Durant, what his teammates said about him during their exit interviews, and what I learned from watching the evening news, reading articles, and listening to podcasts, I was 99% sure Kevin Durant was staying put here in OKC.
On October 15, 2008, Susan and I attended the very first pre-season home game of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Back then the Thunder were ranked 30th out of 30 teams, dead last in the league. Despite being “nothing,” the Thunder never gave up, and only lost by two points to the Los Angeles Clippers (98-100). Durant may not have been the team’s de facto leader back then (Nick Collison, Nenad Krstic and Desmond Mason were all crowd favorites at the time), but the team went down swinging. They fought like hungry, scrappy dogs.
They weren’t quitters.
April 1, 2014 was Thunder Appreciation Day. Season ticket holders were invited to a special event at the Chesapeake Arena. Among other activities, my kids were invited to go down to the court and shoot a few baskets with Thunder players.
Here’s Morgan, shooting shots with with Russell Westbrook.
And here’s Mason tossing up a wild two-handed shot after being fed the ball by Kevin Durant.
After the fun and games were over, the team’s big four — Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Collison — took to the stage. The quartet was asked a series of questions through a panel moderator. The final question was a tough one. Someone asked Kevin Durant if he planned on staying in Oklahoma City or leaving.
Kevin picked up the microphone and said, slowly and deliberately, “I will retire as an Oklahoma City Thunder player.”
The crowd went wild.
I know you can’t hear it, but this is a picture of Kevin Durant saying those words. I heard it, my kids heard it, and the 10,000 Thunder fans who came down to the Chesapeake Arena to support our local team heard it. So when my kids came to me and asked if Kevin Durant was going to stay in Oklahoma, I told them I knew he would.
Because he told us he would.
Kevin Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma has affected more than just sports fans. Sure, Thunder fans were upset and disappointed that he chose to leave, but others were affected as well. Between volunteer work, donations, and community outreach, Kevin Durant has done a lot for Oklahoma off the court, too.
There’s an Oklahoma ethic that’s hard to define but easy to see. Drive around town and you’ll having complete strangers smiling, greeting, and waving at you. Walk into any restaurant or store and you’ll have someone hold the door for you. During times of crisis — the Murrah bombing and tornado destruction come to mind — Okies band together. They help one another. They rise to the occasion. They don’t quit, they don’t take the easy road, and they don’t walk away from a challenge.
“But Rob,” I hear you say, “Kevin Durant isn’t even from Oklahoma. He was born in D.C. and went to college in Austin, Texas. He’s not an Okie!”
While maintenance personnel was busy peeling posters of Kevin Durant’s face off the windows of Chesapeake Arena and whoever manages the social media accounts of KD’s restaurant were busy squelching sarcastic Yelp reviews and deleting hateful tweets, Tim Duncan announced his retirement from the San Antonio Spurs. Drafted in 1997 to the third worst team in the league, Duncan spent his entire career — nineteen straight years — in San Antonio, helping his team win a total of five NBA championships. Like anyone who spends two decades playing in the league Tim Duncan has accomplished a lot of amazing things, but perhaps the most amazing one is that he helped build a nearly last place team, and lead them to the finals every year. I wish he had shared with Kevin Durant what that felt like before he left.
Then again, comparing Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant is unfair. At 40 years old, Duncan, like me, is a member of Generation X. Durant, age 27, is Generation Y. According to Jason Dorsey, an expert on Millennials, here are three of the defining characteristics of Generation Y (people born between 1977 and 1995, like Durant):
– Gen Y often has a feeling of entitlement.
– Gen Y loves instant gratification.
– Gen Y is known for having big expectations but not always knowing or valuing the steps involved to reach those expectations.
When discussing Millennials and the workplace, Dorsey adds the following: “Gen Y is the only generation in the workforce that has never expected to work for one company their entire lives.”
Maybe I didn’t need a crystal ball, after all.
At the end of the day, “sports is sports.” Players (and sometimes franchises) come and go. Sometimes as fans, we feel like our loyalty to a team somehow translates to a player’s loyalty to that same team. It doesn’t. Players are frequently lured away by promises of mega-million-dollar deals and promises of championships. I’m not so delusional as to think hobnobbing with the rich and famous in Hollywood isn’t more fun than cow tipping in Oklahoma. While I can’t blame my kids for taking down their tributes to Kevin Durant, I hope he finds in California what Oklahoma couldn’t offer him.
I just hope he doesn’t tell anybody he’s an Okie.