OAKLAND -- Kevin Durant was enjoying life, savoring the scenery. The boy who had grown up light years from privilege suddenly was a 19-year-old millionaire, driving a black Range Rover with 20-inch wheels, thinking he was in heaven.
He was in Seattle.
He bought a home on Mercer Island, a bridge away from downtown. Wanted to stay there.
The man who paid his salary wanted to move.
So the SuperSonics, who selected Durant in the first round, second overall, in the 2007 draft, moved to Oklahoma City in the summer of 2008 and became the Thunder. New owner Clay Bennett swapped the picturesque green glories of Puget Sound for the flat brown earth of the lower plains.
Life changes, quickly.
“I was excited, going to Oklahoma City, because it was close to Texas,” says Durant, who spent his freshman year at the University of Texas before declaring for the draft. “And I’m like, ‘I’m down to move. I’ve bounced around so many places anyway, so why not?’
“But, thinking back on it, now that I’ve gotten older, you start to realize what that meant to the fans and the people of Seattle.”
Durant will reunite with the region of his NBA birth on Friday, when the Warriors face the Sacramento Kings at KeyArena, on the southwestern edge of downtown Seattle. He will ponder what was, ever so briefly, and what might have been.
The Sonics had been in Seattle for 40 years when he showed up. They won a championship in 1979. They made the playoffs eight consecutive seasons in the 1990s, reaching The Finals in 1996 before losing in six to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
They’d made the playoffs only once in the five seasons preceding Durant’s arrival. He would be the centerpiece of a team bound for better things. They went 20-62 in 2007-08, which put them back in the lottery. They would draft a youngster named Russell Westbrook, fourth overall. It was time to move up.
Exactly one week after that draft came the announcement. The Sonics were moving, leaving Seattle with little more than memories, the team colors and an empty arena.
Durant remembers the moment he heard about the relocation. He was back in school, in Austin, when a Longhorns assistant coach told him of the move.
He, along with his teammates, had been warned. Bennett, whose roots are in Oklahoma City, had met with the Sonics near the end of the season and told them there would be a lot of speculation about a possible move.
“I’m sure that was to warm us up, to let us know we were leaving that summer,” Durant says now.
It hadn’t taken long for Durant to get comfortable in Seattle. His agent, Aaron Goodwin, who also represented Sonics Hall of Famer Gary Payton, had an office there and knew the terrain. Durant had a developed relationship on the AAU circuit with Seattle native Spencer Hawes, whose family opened up its home to the newest Sonics star.
“His mom and dad just took me in, like I was their son,” Durant recalls. “I was over his house with him and his buddies every day.”
Durant threw the first pitch at a Mariners game. He not only got to know such Seattle-based NBA players as Jamal Crawford, Will Conroy and Nate Robinson but also did as much local socializing as a teenager could. A relationship was forming. A bond was being made.
“It was deeper than just playing for the Sonics,” Durant says. “I kind of had a little family there as well.
“I was in a good community. I had a nice house. I was settling down there.”
One year. That was all he had in a place he barely had a chance to call home.
On visits to Portland, the closest NBA city to Seattle, Durant occasionally will hear from fans reminding him that he is a Sonic, and always will be a Sonic.
Durant as a rookie delivered 20.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He was the great new hope on a bad old team. He got clobbered. He loved it. So did the local fans, who quickly realized their Rookie of the Year was special.
He was, as a member of the Thunder. He is, with the Warriors.
Ten years later, Seattle hopes to someday get a team. It likely will, but there is no knowing when.
If it were up to Durant, they never would have left.
“I sympathize with the fans and just know that it’s tough not having basketball there, especially as a deeply rooted basketball city,” he says.
Yeah, Durant remembers that. And more.
“That drive across the bridge was always beautiful,” he recalls.