by Julian Spivey
When I was 15 years old one of my sports heroes Tom Glavine decided to leave the Atlanta Braves via free agency for the rival New York Mets. The Mets offered Glavine extra years on his contract, so he signed with them for four years and $42.5 million. I was disappointed one of my favorite players wouldn’t be on my favorite team anymore, but I never for one second hated Glavine … and I was just a kid.
So, when I saw grown adults booing Kevin Durant relentlessly and calling him disparaging names like “cupcake” and “KowarD” (intentionally misspelled to emphasize the KD) on Saturday night (Feb. 11) on his first visit to Oklahoma City (where he spent nine of his first 10 seasons after the franchise relocated from Seattle) since signing via free agency with the Golden State Warriors during the offseason I was disappointed. I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed in a fan-base that had experienced so much greatness and kindness, both on and off the court, from Durant for a decade.
After all, Durant made the Oklahoma City Thunder what it was for the last decade. With him the franchise was consistently one of the three best teams in the Western Conference. Without him they would essentially have been nothing. And, you can claim they still would’ve had Russell Westbrook, who’s averaging a triple-double this season and working on his first MVP award, and you would’ve been right – but they’re still nothing. They are a seventh-place team, after all, in a conference that pretty much only has seven good teams. And, it’s not just this season. A few seasons ago when Durant was injured and missed most of the season the Thunder failed to make the playoffs. Essentially the same team last year with Durant healthy finished third in the Western Conference, made the Western Conference Finals and nearly made the NBA Finals, but collapsed and fell to the Warriors. Now, without Durant again, the team has fallen back to the bottom four of the conference playoff standings. It’s not a coincidence.
I understand that it looks bad to fans of the Thunder for Durant to leave the team after coming so close to a title on a few different occasions for a team that already included three All-Stars and are almost a lock for the NBA Finals for a third consecutive season, especially when Westbrook signed a contract extension to stay in OKC one season before being set to become a free agent.
But, Durant did what was best for him and that’s all anyone should expect from someone in their profession, and that’s what basketball is for Durant. Fans like to think sports are more than jobs for athletes. They like to think it’s a family that they as fans are included in. That athletes should remain loyal to their teams and fan-bases. But, that’s an unrealistic belief. All of us have opportunities in our lives to either move up in our fields or search out for better jobs and paydays elsewhere. When these better or higher paying jobs are open to us we jump at them. But, fans don’t believe the same for their favorite athletes. They throw around the word “loyalty,” but when it comes down to it we all – athletes included – must do what’s best for ourselves and our actual families.
After a decade off coming up just short of a championship Durant wanted a little something more and the Warriors and their stacked roster gave him that opportunity. You could actually argue passing that up would have been the wrong decision for him.
What was even more disappointing and frankly embarrassing to see from Thunder fans booing Durant on Saturday night was that he gave so much to the Oklahoma City community. He has donated basketball courts to schools in the area and areas throughout the country and even world so kids growing up in bad neighborhoods can have an outlet, like he did growing up, to keep them out of trouble. Durant also donated $1 million to the American Red Cross after the devastating tornadoes in the Oklahoma City area in 2013 and this generous donation inspired both the Thunder franchise and his sponsor Nike to match the donation.
Durant gave so much to the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise, fan-base and community by essentially building a franchise in a city that had never had a professional sport before he came to town. He deserved cheers and praise upon his return – even if it was while wearing another uniform. It’s truly unfortunate the Thunder fan-base wasn’t adult enough to understand all Durant has given them. Hopefully one day they will.