OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — As much as it still hurts for so many Oklahomans to see Kevin Durant shine elsewhere, the Golden State star remains committed to the community he called home for nearly a decade. The place where he grew into the basketball player he is today, and the man he has become.
KD departed Oklahoma City with fanfare on the 4th of July last year to chase a championship with Stephen Curry and the star-studded Warriors.
So when he goes back Saturday night for the first time it will be far from a perfectly harmonious reunion. And that’s fine with Durant. He gets it, he understands what he meant to a city that so desperately needed the lift he provided.
“I put everything into that place, so it will be great to see some people that I haven’t seen in a while,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to that.”
In December, Durant donated $57,000 to Positive Tomorrows, an Oklahoma City elementary school for homeless children that he still cares so much about – and insists he always will, wherever he is. So far, he has honored that commitment after previously giving $35,000 to the school through his foundation.
“Well, that’s real life,” Durant said in December. “I’ve been a part of that group going on four years now. Just `cuz I left there don’t mean I’ll stop building with them. That’s totally separate from this NBA stuff. Those kids mean a lot to me, definitely want to continue to keep helping them. I’m glad I can keep helping growing the school. It’s all about the community there. That was home for me for eight years. I’ve still got love for the people there.”
But did Durant have to join the Warriors of all teams? The franchise that somehow rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Thunder in a thrilling Western Conference Finals last June.
“I do know it’ll be huge for him, and them,” teammate Draymond Green said this week. “They want him coming back in there as well. It will be a huge weekend for them also. Huge for him, and if it’s huge for him, it’s huge for us. It’s like any other time, you always have ones that you have circled on the schedule.”
Golden State has already beaten Durant’s old team handily twice this season – by 47 combined points.
Durant has been brilliant in those games: 79 points on 28-for-40 shooting.
Most recently, Durant dazzled with a season-best 40 points in a 121-100 win Jan. 18 at Oracle Arena. He hit seven 3-pointers on the way to 39 points in the first meeting, a 122-96 Warriors rout Nov. 3 also at Oracle.
There are certain to be mixed feelings when he enters Chesapeake Energy Arena again.
Boos? Cheers? Both.
So stung were some fans by his decision they burned his No. 35 jersey and turned to calling him a coward.
Facing Russell Westbrook and his old teammates twice already, Durant has kept his emotions in check and flat-out dominated.
“It’s good to see everybody but once the ball’s tipped you’re just playing, just hooping. It’s as simple as that,” he said.
There is no love lost between Durant and OKC’s current superstar. No pregame pleasantries planned.
“I don’t talk to nobody during the game,” Westbrook said, noting it’s up to the fans what kind of reception they choose for KD. “Obviously, Kevin has done a lot for Oklahoma City and our team when he was here.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr changed teams so many times he became used to regular returns to arenas he once called home. Yet the reigning NBA Coach of the Year was a role player, a far different situation than Durant’s going back.
“It always gives you a bounce in your step when you go back to the place where you played. You get an emotional kickstart. Just walking into the building is exciting, seeing all your old friends and having all those memories,” he said. “… It’s a weird feeling but it’s nice because out of 82 games sometimes you need that emotion, and that’ll definitely do it. I can’t even imagine what it’ll feel like for KD, that’s a totally different level. It’s one thing to be a role player for a few years but to be a superstar in one town and have the whole place adore, the whole city, to go back is going be very emotional for him.”
You bet the Warriors want to win for him.
“He grew up there, pretty much, into a man,” Curry said. “That’s hard to turn off.”
Durant acknowledges that truth.
“It meant a lot,” he said of the community. “I had some great times there, man, never going to forget them.”
AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.