(Originally published July 10, 2008)
Kevin Durant was all-smiles last year. Drafted number two overall, Durant was heralded the savior of a franchise lost in the dregs of the NBA. His mission was to rescue the floundering Seattle SuperSonics from their playoff-missing 35–47 record of the previous year and spiraling descent of the previous decade.
He did his best.
Averaging 20 points-per-game while earning Rookie of the Year honors, Durant showed the league what everyone had seen in college; the calm, cool Kevin Durant who just goes out and scores points. The Sonics only won a dismal 20 games, but there was hope in the form of a Top-5 draft pick to bring in extra help for their budding star. If not the present, at least the future seemed bright. After all, they had Kevin Durant.
It happened quickly. There are some things even a 22-year-old, rookie superstar can’t save. After a confusing, chaotic ordeal, order was finally made from the mess of court dates, trials, and a judges’ decision. The people of Seattle were chagrined, those of Oklahoma City, elated. The team name, colors and history would be staying in Seattle; the rest of it would be headed to Oklahoma City. As a sort of reward for enthusiastically embracing the homeless New Orleans Hornets from the Hurricane Katrina disaster, Oklahoma City would finally have a professional team to call their own.
It happened quickly. There are some things even a 22-year-old, rookie superstar can’t save.
Even amid cries of foul play and stealing the franchise through back-handed, sleazy dealing, new owner Clay Bennett is excited to own a team in his home state. He tried everything in his power to make it happen, and he did it. Sonics’ fans feel cheated and misused, but the simple fact remains. The Sonics are no more, and Oklahoma City now has an NBA team. Granted it’s still nameless, but they have a stadium, coaching staff and players; and of course, Kevin Durant.
He’s still all-smiles, but you can’t help but almost see the determination within him. He had it before, but it’s different now. Everything is different now. Now, his mission is to carve this new franchise’s very face of existence out the red Oklahoma dirt and forge history from a clean slate.
He’s not alone this time either.
Some may laugh and ask why they’re all not in high school. They certainly don’t have immaculate beards like Baron Davis, or the aura of Kobe Bryant, or the hardened muscles of LeBron James. Nor do they have the giant banners of 17 championships hanging from their rafters, and the history to go with them, like Kevin Garnett and the rest of Boston’s Big Three. Who then, are these young pipsqueaks from OKC? Aside from Durant, most probably couldn’t tell you their names. Jeff Green? Russell Westbrook? Second-year player hotshot? Rookie from UCLA? They have merely two years of professional experience between the three of them, yet, in all certainty, they are Oklahoma City’s Big Three.
Without a doubt, they realize the seriousness of their charge. But, like the fresh-faced young men that they are, having loads of fun playing pickup games and dominating the summer league seems like a good way to spend a few months. Perhaps older, wiser veterans would admonish them for not spending every available hour in the gym working out and pushing their bodies to the limits with exhaustive training regimens in preparation for the new season.
“But we are preparing!” they’d say. They’re bonding, they’re learning to play together, and developing the chemistry they’ll need to lead this team to greatness. Theirs is no walk in NBA-park. Ask them what they think and they’ll shrug and maybe grin, not saying much of anything, but that doesn’t matter. You can see it in their eyes. Jeff Green’s icy determination. Russell Westbrook’s desire to prove himself in the big leagues. And of course, Kevin Durant. He just smiles, but he knows it better than anyone.
There are no greats from the Oklahoma City past, no heated playoff battles for championship rings. No winning seasons to be proud of, not even any history to model after.