Seattleites aren’t the only ones who fantasize about what Durant could have done in this city — Durant does, too.
Just before the ribbon-cutting, Lenny Wilkens took the mic and started talking about the man standing 20 feet away from him — Kevin Durant. He harkened back to his time as the Sonics president of basketball operations, recalling the day he returned from the 2007 NBA Draft Lottery with the No. 2 pick.
Wilkens knew the Blazers were going to take Greg Oden first overall, so he was boasting about how the Sonics were going to nab the top player in the draft. It was an exciting time, but in retrospect, maybe not the most pleasant memory.
“I’m not going to talk about the rest, because I still get a little angry about the fact that the Sonics left Seattle,” Wilkens said. “Especially with the great legacy that we had.”
Durant was back in Seattle on Friday for a charity event in which he unveiled a renovated basketball court at Powell Barnett Park, in partnership with Sparkling Ice. The Emerald City is the latest location to benefit from the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation’s “Build it and they will ball” campaign, which overhauls basketball courts for underprivileged kids around the globe.
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But it was clear coming back to the town where his NBA career began sparked some emotion within the four-time NBA scoring champ. Because Seattleites aren’t the only ones who fantasize about what Durant could have done in this city — Durant does, too.
“When the Seahawks won the title, and I was with the Thunder, and we were playing well, I was imagining how the city would have felt with both teams here,” Durant said. “It would have been electric. It would have been something we’ve never seen before — something no city has seen before. But we can dream, man.”
Durant’s lone season in Seattle was as tumultuous for him as it was for Sonics fans. He said the uncertainty of whether the team would stay affected the locker room, and the Sonics’ 20-62 record was the worst in franchise history.
But Durant still earned Rookie of the Year honors after scoring 20.3 points per game, signaling to the league that his team would be moving up in the standings. Unfortunately for Sonics fans, they would also be moving out of the state.
Durant said older players regularly reminisce about the Seattle-Portland trip, describing it as one of the more enjoyable swings on the schedule. And it’s easy to see Durant still has love for the city — as he once made waves by donning a Sonics hat after a Thunder practice.
Obviously, his top concern basketball-wise is winning a title with the Warriors, whom he signed with in July. But count him among those rooting hard for hoops to return in Seattle.
“I really wish they get a team here,” Durant said. “We (other players) miss getting back here. We know how it is, so hopefully the team comes back soon.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder has been the most reviled franchise in Seattle for nine years now, but there was never any hate toward Durant personally. He said Sonics fans were always good to him, Russell Westbrook, Nick Collison and Jeff Green — all of whom either played for or were drafted by the Sonics.
Of course, that didn’t stop folks around here from celebrating every OKC playoff loss with cigars and champagne bottles. And when Durant spurned the Thunder for Golden State this summer, it might as well have been New Year’s Eve in Seattle.
I couldn’t help but bring this up Friday, as I wondered if Durant caught wind of how joyous his decision made Puget Sounders.
“We’re not going to talk about that,” his publicist said. “Thank you for your time.”
But Durant didn’t immediately walk away. He just nodded as a tiny grin appeared on his face.
“Yeah, they were excited,” he said.
It’s unfortunate that that is Seattle’s favorite Kevin Durant moment. The Seahawks showed how zealous fans can be in this city, and Durant would have helped make this one of America’s top sports towns.
Didn’t happen, though. As Durant said, all we can do is dream.