The Departure: Reporting on Oklahoma City’s Independence Day Anguish

Let’s be perfectly clear. Grown men playing a silly basketball game is about as important as the latest Bachelorette gossip on this Independence Day weekend. With sadistic men successfully igniting bombs and shooting up night clubs while an American presidential election is making One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest look like uplifting family entertainment, really tall, athletic men who get paid ungodly amounts of money to place a ball through a hoop shouldn’t merit much ink. The fact that they do is a testament to either what great a country we live in or a reason why ISIS hates us…probably a little bit of both. Yet, in spite of all of this, the collective consciousness of Oklahoma City woke up this morning to the news that its prodigal son had slipped away, in the middle of the night, never to return (or at least until he rides into town with his new posse, the Curry Cowboys, brandishing yellow and blue sashes for what is sure to be a memorable showdown at the OK Chesapeake Corral). The cries of utter agony this morning could be heard across Oklahoma City, from the shores of Lake Hefner to the base of Toby Keith’s water tower in the middle of Moore.

To understand what Oklahoma City is feeling this Independence Day, you must understand what Kevin Durant means to capital of the Sooner State. Imagine the boys of One Direction walking into an American middle school and stripping off their shirts while warming up their microphones. This is Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City. He is, to get uber-dramatic (like movie preview, voice-over guy dramatic) a god among mere mortals. He is featured in so many Facebook and Tinder profile photos of OKC residents that you wonder if there is someone wandering around Bricktown with a cardboard cutout of KD raking in some serious dough. He has been, from the moment he arrived in the city eight years ago until the moment his $54.3 million contract with the Golden State Warriors was announced today, an ambassador for the city and the state of Oklahoma.

A little over a year ago, around the twentieth anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City, I attempted (among other things) to chronicle the anxiety residents of Oklahoma City had at losing Kevin Durant to free agency. In the past week, while Kevin Durant was on his courtship tour, one which I’m only certain ABC, the home of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, would have salivated over the broadcast rights, that one where Durant met with Oklahoma City, Golden State, San Antonio, Boston, Miami, and the Clippers of Los Angeles, OKC’s population was cautiously optimistic about its chances at keeping its superstar. Electronic billboards around the city brightly transmitted pleas to KD to remain in a Thunder uniform. The city sat inexorably on edge, like the author wooing a pretty woman: hoping for the best, but fearing the worst. Today, all hope slipped away; it vanished like a dilapidated structure unfortunate enough to be standing in the path of an Oklahoma twister.

This is basketball. And it’s being played in a place that has survived the dust bowl and domestic terrorism. The state of Oklahoma barely flinches when meteorologists mention tornadoes and, now, we have earthquakes! In short, it is full of people who can adequately understand the difference between really losing something and losing a person who is paid entirely too much money because he can accurately aim a large, orange ball. I mean, there are dedicated and hardworking special needs teachers who make as much in a year as Kevin Durant makes for two hours of work. Sometimes, we all need a little perspective.

All of this is made much harder to swallow knowing the jersey Kevin Durant will be donning when next year’s NBA season tips off. The Golden State Warriors is a team that Oklahoma City had on the ropes in last year’s Western Conference Finals, leading 3-1 before the team from the golden coast caught fire, a blaze that was only extinguished by King James and the Cleveland Cooler. For an OKC fan, Kevin Durant’s announcement today feels a little like Stephen Adams must have felt when his junk met the wrong end of Draymond Green’s leg.

It is easy to be bitter now, to take words Kevin Durant has said, like when he told Revolt TV in April of 2015: “I’m one of those guys that would love to stick it out with one team my whole career,” and that he wanted his jersey hanging from the Chesapeake Energy Arena rafters, that all of it was hogwash. That of course, is misplaced sullenness. We can save that for the dudes who find the need to rant to their local Sports Animal radio hosts. Kevin Durant will be greatly missed. He was an ambassador for the city and an incredible face to its first major professional sports franchise. Maybe one day a jersey with the name Durant will actually hang from the Chesapeake Energy Arena rafters, and maybe Durant will be an Oklahoma City representative in the NBA Hall of Fame. We shall see!

KD, thanks for the memories; we all wish you the best. Just remember my friend, a piece of advice, when your new teammate Steph Curry is preparing to imprecisely fling his tremendously chewed-up mouthguard, be sure to duck!

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