Kevin Durant deserves love in long-awaited reunion with Warriors fans originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
SAN FRANCISCO – When the lights are dimmed, and let’s hope they are, everyone inside Chase Center should know why.
When the building is hushed, and let’s hope it is, everyone inside the building should gaze toward the video screens and know what’s coming.
Now a member of the Phoenix Suns, Durant will want to defeat the Warriors when the teams meet Tuesday night to open the 2023-24 season. He will, however, join fans long enough to share about 30 seconds of video nostalgia before bathing in the applause that accompanies the greatly deserved standing ovation.
He ought to know what’s coming. Love.
“Excited to play in front of those fans,” Durant told reporters Sunday in Phoenix. “Some incredible moments there. We have built a bond that don't really have to be spoken about, me and the fans there in the Bay Area. I feel like they've been supporting me well before I came there.
“And then, once I became a part of the Warriors, they just went even harder in support of me, myself, and my teammates. Every player individually felt what it was like to play for the Golden State Warriors.”
Durant’s reunion with Warriors fans is a long time coming. Though he has been back to the Bay Area several times, he never took the court in front of local fans. The last time he played before a sellout crowd in the Bay was May 8, 2019, at Oracle Arena. In Oakland. As a member of the Warriors.
He scored 22 points and grabbed five rebounds before being forced to the sideline in the third quarter with a strained right calf. There was a sense, even then, that it might be his last appearance as a Warrior.
Durant returned 33 days later, during the 2019 NBA Finals in Toronto, believing he was sufficiently healed. He played 12 marvelous minutes before sustaining a ruptured right Achilles’ tendon that would cost him a full season.
Upon becoming a free agent a few weeks later, Durant decided to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. That was the official end to his three seasons by the Bay. It was bittersweet.
Bitter because he was leaving a place that embraced him. Sweet because he provided spectacular moments during his time with the Warriors.
In some ways, though, KD always will be a member of the Warriors. He was a brilliant light in the brightest times of the franchise. Back-to-back championships. MVP of both NBA Finals series. Clutch shots that assured victory and sent LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers into the night to sleep with defeat.
Durant’s arrival in July 2016 took the Warriors to a place they’d never been in all their years. To the top, undisputed as the NBA's best team.
“Kevin’s arrival turned us into one of the most talented teams ever,” coach Steve Kerr said Monday. “And he was such a perfect fit next to our guys. Kevin is kind of a perfect fit next to anybody. But he just fit beautifully next to our group, and we became an incredibly dominant team with him here.
“I still maintain the level of play in the 2017 Finals, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Golden State’s 2017 championship team was a exterminating machine, destroying every team in its path. Sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, sweeping the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals, sweeping the San Antonio Spurs in the conference finals. Completing a polite “gentleman’s sweep” (losing only Game 4 on the road) of the Cavaliers in The Finals.
What the fans didn’t see but probably felt was Durant’s commitment to the game. To getting the most out of his prodigious gifts. Former Golden State general Bob Myers often recalled, wistfully, how much he enjoyed seeing Durant and Curry going through post-practice sessions.
I remember them, too. It was poetry in physical form.
Perhaps remembering the harsh treatment that came his way in his return to Oklahoma City, where he spent nine seasons with the Thunder, KD might not have always been sure of what to expect in his first reunion with Warriors fans.
He now knows better.
“Excited to get back in front of the people I call family there in that organization,” Durant told reporters Sunday in Phoenix. “And the fans that I went as hard as I could for three years. It should be fun.”
It will be. For at least the moments before and after that 30-second video, produced by the Warriors, paying tribute to his time as a Warrior.