Programming note: The Santa Cruz Warriors will take on the Oklahoma City Blue in Oracle Arena Sunday at 6:00 p.m. on CSN Bay Area.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- When Kevin Durant walks into Chesapeake Energy Arena Saturday night, he will be wearing a Warriors jersey on the outside and eight years of his life on the inside.
And for those eight years in Oklahoma City, Durant was alongside Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook, the firebrand competitor that Durant defended and empowered and protected and praised and even professed, in public, to love.
Where is the love now?
Did it really die last July, when Durant, a free agent, announced his intention to sign with the Warriors, thereby leaving OKC and Westbrook?
They are now opponents, yet something more than that. They are foes. There is contempt. Understand, though, there is no simple “good-vs.-evil” narrative. This is not Ali-Frazier or Federer-Nadal or even Magic vs. Larry. The Durant-Westbrook stakes are lower yet no less spirited, because Durant-Westbrook may be more personal than any of the aforementioned.
The animosity of the jilted burns hotter in this instance because the mutual respect was bonded by brotherly love.
From all appearances and insinuations by both men, their occasionally tumultuous relationship came undone by the most common and destructive forces: lack of communication.
Durant’s July 4 decision to leave Oklahoma City blindsided Westbrook. Not necessarily because he assumed Durant was coming back but because he clearly felt they had formed enough of a brotherhood that Durant surely would reach out and tell him.
“I found out like ya’ll found out -- on the news, on the cell phones, on social media,” Westbrook said one month after Durant moved on. “I was talking to Kevin early on in the process, but nothing after. Just a text message from him, that’s about it.”
Put another way, this at times tense relationship came completely undone by that most common of destructive forces: lack of communication.
Durant, in this instance, failed. He admits it. And he regrets it. Can’t undo it now. But he can address it. He must, as the drama that has played out unremittingly for more than seven months surely is nearing its end game.
Durant will see Westbrook for the first time in OKC. The two will reunite under vastly different conditions next week in New Orleans, where they will be teammates on the Western Conference All-Star team. They will, once again, share the court. They will, once again, dress in the same locker room.
These are opportunities for Durant to speak up, or at least attempt to. If he truly believes he could have handled it better, as he has said, reach out. It’s past time for him to extend an olive branch.
If Durant’s old teammate has no interest in listening, then the ongoing cold war falls back on Westbrook. Those who know him best say Westbrook during the season resorts to a personal bunker mentality. It’s him and his team against the world.
To know that once upon a time it was the Thunder, featuring Durant and Westbrook, against the world -- and that the two of them won a lot of battles -- provides illustration and, to a degree, justification for Westbrook’s cool insolence.
We don’t know that Westbrook feels betrayed. But when a man you’ve known for so long, on the court and off, is able to walk away without a word, who could blame him for feeling scorned?
Yet Durant would have been foolish if he wanted to leave but opted to stay because it would have pleased Westbrook. Durant, 28, is too emotionally advanced for that. He made a practical decision based on what was right for him.
In doing so, Durant left behind many friends and associates. He didn’t extinguish the relationships, but he created a distance that forever changed the precious dynamic he had with fans in Oklahoma -- and with Westbrook.
Durant’s greatest glories came in this slice of America, and they came with Westbrook at his side. There were many victories, numerous accolades and countless memorable moments. Durant spent most of his adult life here. He grew, became a man.
Westbrook was a witness to all of it. They shared hugs and the company of family members. They collaborated on several projects in the Oklahoma City area.
That they have nothing to say to each other is attributed to inaction for Durant, but Westbrook’s overreaction fosters the perception of a feud. He feeds the friction, which keeps alive this storyline.
Durant says he’s tired of talking about it. I believe him. But this won’t go away unless he and Westbrook clear the air and put it away. No need for an apology or even an explanation.
It begins with a desire to patch the rift in hopes of bringing down the curtain on this drama. The sooner the better, even if Westbrook may be more amenable in, say, July.