The day the circus came to town, Kevin Durant made his return to Oklahoma City.
Extra security was hired, camera crews followed his every step and the usually empty hallways below Chesapeake Energy Arena were as crowded as bumper-to-bumper traffic with personalities from all the major national sports shows, dignitaries and hangers-on.
The day the circus came to town, fans walked the streets around the arena dressed for a roast, not a toast. Secondary ticket prices were said to be at all-time highs and the anticipation of Durant’s return, wearing a different shade of blue, was extreme.
The day the circus came to town, it felt like a playoff game. No, it felt like Game 1 of the NBA Finals when the Thunder were truly relevant. It felt like Day 1 when the OKC/New Orleans Hornets took on Sacramento inside the same building which had a different name, The Ford Center. Somehow, Saturday felt different.
Because on the day the circus came to town, fans were more interested in jeering than cheering. It was choosing a cold sore instead of a cold beer. It was a roast instead of a toast. T-Shirts and signs, banners and vitriol. All of them blended together. None of them in support. All of them in opposition to the newest, most-evil force in the NBA – the player who used to be part of your team and is no longer. This was a first chance for a crowd always seen as positive and a shining light in the NBA to express itself as something different. The circus causes all of us to act a bit different. This crowd turned. Turned in a way that was shocking – like the first time you saw Jim Carey take on a serious role or Robert DeNiro be something other than a gangster.
That’s what happens when your first love leaves you. Oh, it will happen again, but the city and the fans and the media and whoever else will have experience with the feeling of heartbreak, of getting kidney-punched won’t be so foreign and unexpected. It’ll hurt, but not in the same way. And just like when the circus comes to town for the first time, it’s not nearly the same sort of excitement the second time through.
The day the circus came to town, Russell Westbrook was cheered more loudly and more robustly – like a solider returning from battle – only it was for no reason at all, except for the fact he wasn’t Kevin Durant. Westbrook is only a hero because he’s paired against Durant, who has become the villain. Yes, Westbrook was fabulous Saturday night, but no more fabulous than he’s been all season. The cheers were of appreciate and admiration and in some sense ones of misplaced loyalty. Westbrook chose to sign an extension, but that doesn’t mean it’s a lifetime contract. It doesn’t mean he’s more or less businesslike than Kevin Durant or more or less loyal than Durant, either.
The day the circus came to town, boxer Floyd Mayweather sat courtside and every seat was filled well before tipoff. Usually fans wander around, not Saturday. Everyone was ready to see what would happen when KD’s name got called. He was boo’d loudly and aggressively and expectedly, too. It was real. There was nothing fake about it. Included in the seats was Durant’s mother, Wanda. She said she was surprised at the anger and the boos. Hey, sometimes the circus is full of surprises.
The day the circus came to town, even Andre Roberson got cheered. The business end of every Thunder complaint for the better part of his career in Oklahoma City, Roberson was lauded loudly during introductions and then again when he became the first Thunder player to have a face-to-face conversation with Durant since July 4. You see amazing and wild things when the circus comes to town.
And at the end of the night, when all the gusto and the bravado and talk of the Thunder and Russell and attitude had quieted and the circus left, all the secrets were revealed. Turns out there was no bunny in the hat and the bearded lady wasn’t really a lady after all. The truth was evident. Kevin Durant was the best player on the court and the Warriors were the best team in the building.
The circus was here. It’s gone now. Back to normal for the Thunder, until at least next month when Durant and the three rings of entertainment come with him.