SEATTLE — Kevin Durant got off the bus inside the loading dock of KeyArena about two hours before tipoff and made a quick glance toward the court, visible through the tunnel.
He was back where his NBA career began more than a decade ago.
"When I woke up from my pregame nap I was nervous," Durant said. "I never felt that way coming into a game, especially a preseason game, but knowing this whole thing was set up for that moment I guess it was a crazy feeling to come out and feel that much love."
Durant was back in Seattle on Friday night along with his Golden State Warriors for a preseason game against the Sacramento Kings for the first NBA game in the city since the SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City following the 2007-08 season. It was an opportunity for the Seattle basketball community to gather once more before KeyArena becomes a construction site later this fall as part of a $700 million renovation that is expected to land the city an expansion NHL team, and has raised hopes of the NBA and the Sonics returning in the future.
The Warriors beat the Kings 122-96. Klay Thompson scored 30 points. Durant had 26. None of that truly mattered.
"It was a very special atmosphere. Very different from anything I've ever experienced," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
For three hours, Seattle said hello to the NBA once more while saying goodbye to a building in which the Sonics hung their only championship banner, the Seattle Storm won three WNBA titles and served as the epicenter for hoops in a basketball-crazed city.
On this night, it was again home to the NBA with the same energy, excitement and noise that bounced off its walls in the heyday of the Sonics, when they were among the NBA's elite franchises. The game sold out in a matter of hours and the lower bowl was crammed with fans more than an hour before tipoff.
All the focus was on Durant, who along with Jeff Green are the only players remaining in the league who played for the Sonics in Seattle. When he was introduced as the last member of the starting lineup for Golden State, Durant pulled off his warmup revealing a Shawn Kemp SuperSonics jersey from the 1996 season, the last time Seattle made the NBA Finals. The crowd erupted, as if Durant needed to be any more beloved in the Emerald City.
"I'm not really big into the surprises and all that stuff but I thought it would be cool to honour one of the past legends," Durant said.
Durant also took the microphone before tipoff to relay a message to the fans that turned out.
"First off, I want to get a shout out to the Seattle Storm for holding it down and winning a championship," Durant said while pointing toward Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart sitting courtside. "On behalf of myself, the NBA, our organization, my teammates we want to thank you guys for coming out and supporting us. I know it's been a rough 10 years. NBA is back in Seattle for tonight. Hopefully it's back forever soon."
Every Durant basket was met with the loudest cheers and the couple of times he dunked the crowd erupted as if it was the 90s all over again.
In the closing minutes, the chants of "Super-Sonics!" grew louder. A decade ago when Durant played in the last game of the Seattle franchise, those chants were "Save Our Sonics." Now, the chants served as hope for the future of someday seeing the green and gold in the NBA again.
"I think every NBA player at this point knows Seattle needs a basketball team and it's obviously over the top of our heads, but to continue to show support for the city of Seattle I think that's what everybody wants to do," Durant said.
Every major Seattle basketball luminary in attendance was honoured from Bird and Stewart, to Gary Payton, Slick Watts and Jamal Crawford. Jack Sikma, Lenny Wilkens and Fred Brown carried out the 1979 NBA championship trophy during one timeout. And Bill Russell sat at midcourt watching over it all.
The stands were a mix of the green and gold of the SuperSonics and the blue and yellow of the Warriors, with the old Sonics colours winning out. And while there were jerseys of Kemp and Gary Payton in Sonics green, and Stephen Curry in Warriors white, the No. 35 with "Durant" across the back seemed to be the overwhelming jersey of choice.
"Kevin, he kind of represents the last season of the Sonics and hopefully a return, however that happens," Kerr said during pregame while wearing a vintage SuperSonics shirt .
Curry did not make the trip for personal reasons while Draymond Green sat out due to a sore knee. Durant was the star, but getting his share of adulation was Thompson, who played collegiately at Washington State and was the recipient of a few "Go Cougs," chants from the crowd.
"It didn't feel like a preseason game," Thompson said. "It was almost like you could feel the energy with your hands."
Durant broke out custom green shoes with gold accents to wear during the game. Even more personal were the white Nike's he wore coming into the building with "KD" and the old Sonics logo featuring the Seattle skyline on the back.
"I thought it was very fitting I came here representing the whole city," Durant said.
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