Kevin Durant ran into arms of his mother and family on the sideline at Chesapeake Arena with seconds remaining before the whistle made it official that Oklahoma City Thunder had won the Western Conference finals. The embrace might as well have been a collective one from all of Washington, D.C.
There isn’t an NBA fan within 50 miles of the Beltway that hasn’t heard of the Seat Pleasant Recreation Center and doesn’t feel an affinity for – with all due respect to Hall of Famers Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing, Adrian Dantley, and David Robinson, as well as Grant Hill and even Len Bias – the best player the area has ever produced.
At 23 years old, Durant has led the Thunder into the NBA Finals on the back of symbolic and ruthless takedowns of the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs. Next month he’ll take center stage at the Olympics with USA Basketball.
Durant is bigger than Robert Griffin III, who hasn’t yet played a down for the Redskins. Bryce Harper is an unstoppable force and could be on the verge of something special in his rookie season with the Nationals, but we won’t find out until October. Alex Ovechkin’s career with the Capitals is far from over, but he’s had his chance. John Wall and the Wizards are still seasons away from contending.
Durant is dominating now, and he doing so as the polar opposite of LeBron James. While James had The Decision on ESPN two summers ago, Durant re-signed on the dotted line with Oklahoma City the minute it was possible and quietly announced it on Twitter.
It may have been an implicit rejection for his District fans, who harbored dreams he would come home to make his name. But don’t forget what Durant has tattooed across his back: “Maryland.”
Durant will always be part of Washington no matter where he plays. He’ll never be able to get back what he should’ve had with Seattle. There, it will be bittersweet starting next week to watch a player who has become nearly impossible to root against while simultaneously wishing his team never existed.