OKLAHOMA CITY — There are few topics in sports that attract more opinions than the thoughts and words of Kevin Durant. The 2014 MVP’s recent comments to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski in which he shared his intention to travel to Oklahoma City to honor his former teammate Nick Collison’s jersey retirement was met with polarizing takes.
— George Stoia III (@GeorgeStoia) January 27, 2019
People need to stop tripping. Unlike anybody booing the man for going back for this, Kevin actually knows and played next to the dude who's jersey's getting retired. That ceremony is largely gonna be about a bond that's outside of our reach as fans.
— Niggas On Ice™: The Film Adaptation Of The Play (@Dawmeno) January 27, 2019
Any other similar situation involving different players would be met with little negative reaction. But this is Kevin Durant we are talking about. The guy who could not finish the job in the 2016 Western Conference Finals leading three games to one. The same player who joined that very team he couldn’t defeat, resulting in a rather unceremonious departure.
No, this wasn’t The Decision. LeBron James’ first exit from the Cleveland Cavaliers was met with similar vitriol as Durant’s, but has aged well over time. You can understand why James would leave a roster that included Mo Williams as a number two option, and the ghosts of Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O’Neal.
Durant left a team primed and ready to compete for and win championships for the next decade. A roster that included Russell Westbrook coming into his prime, a budding star in Steven Adams, as well as a cast of high-level role players. Not to mention a front office that was determined to spend the necessary money to keep their stars happy.
Instead, Durant opted for what many considered the easy way out. It has worked out well for him. Two consecutive titles with a third more than likely on the way. All this to go along with Durant’s emergence as a business man to set himself up nicely for a life after basketball.
But what of his life before the Warriors? What about the eight years of spectacular basketball that more than helped put one of the smallest markets in the NBA on the global stage? At some point, that period of time will and must be recognized for what it was. Greatness. Durant’s return to Oklahoma City is another step in that direction.
This isn’t Durant making the evening about himself. This isn’t a ploy by him or the Thunder to repair that bridge with the sole purpose to lead to a possible return to the franchise. It is a showing of respect to a former brother in arms in Collison, as well as a desire to show both sides continue to move forward.
The Thunder certainly have. They fully invested in Westbrook as the face of the city and franchise. Sam Presti’s desire to remain a player in the Western Conference came to fruition with the trade and ultimate re-signing of Paul George. This, as well as the franchise’s ability to develop talent internally have helped them whether the storm of a departing star that other places like Cleveland, Miami and Orlando could never recover from.
Has Durant made mistakes in the past regarding his former team? Yes. He has expressed as much in the handling of his departure as well as silly situations since then. Fences even appear to be on the mend with former teammates. Most notably in a postgame embrace with his former point guard Westbrook after the Thunder’s 123-95 victory in Oakland on November 21st.
March 20th will be Collison’s day. It can also be an example of the fans in Oklahoma City to show their desire to move forward with their successful franchise. There will be 18,000-plus people looking for Durant in the arena, each with their own opinion. Perhaps this could be the olive branch between both Durant and the fans who so loved him for eight years.
This is Kevin Durant we are talking about, after all. The guy who who led the Thunder to the NBA Finals in 2012. The same player who led the league in scoring four times with his 32 points per game in the 2013-14 season leading to one of the most heartfelt MVP speeches in sports history.
Whether you agree or disagree with Durant’s joining of the Warriors being the easy way out, the former Thunder player’s intention on attending a game in Oklahoma is anything but easy. Emotions still run high on both sides. It is a classy gesture and will be seen as one of the moments where both Oklahoma City and Durant could look back and remember their greatness together years down the road.