SEATTLE (AP) — 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.
“Definitely a different feeling pulling up into the arena and down into the ramp just like when I used to play here,” Durant said. “Bringing back memories.”
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.
But on this night it was again an NBA building 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.
And 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.
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.”
The stands were a mix of the green and gold of the SuperSonics and the blue and yellow of the Warriors. 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,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said during pregame while wearing a vintage SuperSonics shirt .
The luminaries of Seattle hoops were present from Bird and Stewart, to Payton, Jamal Crawford, Jack Sikma, Detlef Schrempf and Slick Watts, and Hall of Famers Lenny Wilkens and Bill Russell.
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.