OAKLAND, Calif. — 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.
Durant left Oklahoma City with a fanfare on the Fourth 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 is fine with Durant. 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 insists he will always care about, wherever he is. He previously gave $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 ’cause I left there don’t mean I’ll stop building with them. That’s totally separate from this N.B.A. 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.”
But did Durant have to join the Warriors, of all teams? The franchise that somehow rallied from a three-games-to-one deficit to beat the Thunder in a thrilling Western Conference finals last June?
“I do know it’ll be huge for him, and them,” Durant’s 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 a combined 47 points.
Durant was 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 on Jan. 18 at Oracle Arena, the Warriors’ home. He hit seven 3-pointers on the way to 39 points in the first meeting, a 122-96 Warriors rout on Nov. 3, also at Oracle.
There are certain to be mixed feelings when he enters Chesapeake Energy Arena again.
So stung were some fans by his decision that they burned his No. 35 jersey and turned to calling him a coward.
While facing Russell Westbrook and his old teammates in the two previous meetings, Durant kept his emotions in check and dominated the Thunder.
“It’s good to see everybody, but once the ball’s tipped you’re just playing, just hooping,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”
There is no love lost between Durant and Westbrook, Oklahoma City’s current superstar. No pregame pleasantries planned.
“I don’t talk to nobody during the game,” Westbrook said, noting that it would be up to the fans what kind of reception they gave Durant. “Obviously, Kevin has done a lot for Oklahoma City and our team when he was here.”
As a player, Steve Kerr changed teams so many times that he grew used to regular returns to arenas he had once called home. Yet Kerr, now the Warriors’ coach and the reigning N.B.A. coach of the year, was a role player, a far different situation from Durant’s.
“It always gives you a bounce in your step when you go back to the place where you played,” Kerr said. “You get an emotional kick-start. Just walking into the building is exciting, seeing all your old friends and having all those memories.”
He added: “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 K. D. 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.”
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.”
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