Kevin Durant is moving on. The former MVP and two-time NBA Finals MVP signed with the Brooklyn Nets this summer, ending his time with the Warriors after three years and two championships.
It’s the second time in his career that Durant has changed teams, but this time he’s seeking a near-complete restart. He’s in the early stages of a year-long rehab from tearing his Achilles in the NBA Finals. He’s changed his jersey number from 35 to 7, signifying the completion of a cycle in a biblical sense, and he’s going across the country to a new conference and new team seeking out the challenge of bringing a fringe playoff team to a championship level.
All of this has led to Durant contemplating the past, present, and future as he has ample time for such reflection in the midst of a grueling rehab. Time often makes the heart grow fonder, but the dream of an eventual reunion between Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder seems to be dead. The sour feelings towards his first team have not faded in the slightest, chiefly due to the lingering hurt of his first game back in OKC in 2017.
In a recent profile on Durant by J.R. Moehringer for Wall Street Journal Magazine, the superstar discussed his rehab, decision to go to Brooklyn, the departure from Golden State and more. Notably, he explained how he still remembers all the details of that first return to OKC and how it wasn’t just the fans that gave him a sour reception, but people throughout the organization, which he simply can’t forget or forgive.
At his first game in Oklahoma City as a visitor—February 2017—fans yowled for blood and brandished cupcakes, because Durant was supposedly soft. “Such a venomous toxic feeling when I walked into that arena,” he says. “And just the organization, the trainers and equipment managers, those dudes is pissed off at me? Ain’t talking to me? I’m like, Yo, this is where we going with this? Because I left a team and went to play with another team?”
His mother recalls one particularly appalling piece of video: a Thunder fan firing bullets into a No. 35 jersey. Bullets—after she and Durant and half his extended family relocated to Oklahoma, after they embraced the community, after Durant gave a million dollars to tornado victims.
“I’ll never be attached to that city again because of that,” Durant says. “I eventually wanted to come back to that city and be part of that community and organization, but I don’t trust nobody there. That shit must have been fake, what they was doing. The organization, the GM, I ain’t talked to none of those people, even had a nice exchange with those people, since I left.”
When players leave teams they’re often subject to all kinds of criticism and vitriol from fans who feel abandoned, and Durant’s departure from Oklahoma City might’ve created the most outrage of any player movement in recent memory. Not only was Durant leaving the team, he was leaving a contender for the budding dynasty that he had failed to topple a year prior, and fans simply couldn’t handle it. The fans lashed out, sometimes crossing a line with what they said to the star, and the organization didn’t handle things especially well either, as Durant tells it.
The feeling of betrayal in OKC ran deep and that first game back seemed to all but seal off any hopes of an eventual reconciliation. More than two years later, Durant still feels the pain of that night and the wounds on both sides don’t seem to be healing. Perhaps there’s time for that to change, but as the WSJ feature notes, Durant’s already going through and facing many of the challenges that create the nostalgia and fondness for the past in athletes that usually helps bridge those divides and he still feels this way.
Durant is facing down a devastating injury that has been at times a career-ender and, if nothing else, typically a career-reducer with the hopes of getting back to the level that’s made him one of the best players on the planet. He’s doing this in his 30s and moving across the country for a fresh start, but, at least for now, three years has not been near enough time for bygones to be bygones with the franchise he helped grow and build in Oklahoma City.