OAKLAND — As fans entered Oracle Arena on Thursday evening, they were handed golden yellow towels. In white and blue, they read, “for oaK/lanD”.
When the Golden State Warriors hit the floor, it was in blue shirts bearing the same graphic, in white and gold, all except for Quinn Cook. He wore a white warm-up shirt, with “Durant / 35” on the back. It was the warm-up shirt of his best friend.
Throughout an arena celebrating its last night as the home of the Warriors, emotions were high before Game 6 of the NBA Finals — a game made possible because of Kevin Durant, who tore his Achilles helping Golden State stave off eliminationon Monday. On Thursday, piled in boxes at the entrances to the arena, gold towels paying tribute to both — bearing a blue and white version of the graphic waited for a sell-out crowd.
“I don’t know whose idea it was,” Cook said, “but it’s perfect. Perfect. Perfect.”
There was another design for sale in the team store, bearing Durant’s likeness, but no design was quite as fitting as the one that fused the complex, deep-seated emotions of the night.
“We knew we wanted to do something to celebrate KD’s effort,” marketing vice president Jennifer Millet said on the floor, before Game 6. “We started to work through some designs, and then, one of our partners that we work with all the time — Oaklandish — came up with this final design, we saw it, and said, ‘That’s it.’”
Since the end of Monday’s Game 5 — when Durant came back from a calf strain and tore his Achilles in a desperate effort to stave off elimination — Millet’s team had been working through the night, trying to find the right way to send off Oracle Arena and pay tribute to Durant, but nothing quite clicked. Late Tuesday morning, senior marketing director Amanda Chin sent Millet a text: “Why don’t we just steal Angela’s?”
Angela Tsay of Oaklandish had posted the simple, clean graphic on Instagram, one that would soon be mass produced and sold in Oaklandish stores. It was instantly iconic.
The Oakland-based company had collaborated with the Warriors on multiple occasions, notably the team’s “The Town” design, which bears similarities to Oaklandish’s own logo and will take that design with them across the Bay when they move to Chase Center next year.
“We said, ‘This is it, so let’s put it on something that fans can celebrate, and use it as a rallying cry during the game,’” Millet said. “It’s really cool that we can pull from all these Bay Area, culturally-relevant organizations.”
One phone call later, and the production machine was in gear.
Winning one for Durant had already turned into an internal rallying cry within the Warriors’ locker room. Durant came back after missing more than a month with a strained right calf, after multiple medical consultations both interal and external, to play 12 minutes for Golden State and helped spark the Warriors to a Game 5 win, suffering an injury which will sideline him for likely an entire year of his prime, but ensuring one more game at oracle, perhaps a chance to exorcise the bad juju from their loss in Game 4.
“This is unique,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “This is sort of a once-in-a-career moment where you play in a building for the very last time, and you absolutely know positively without a doubt that it’s the last game you’ll ever play here. We had a ceremony at the end of the year in the regular season, but we knew we were coming back here to play. And then we had that weird Game 4 a few days ago where we lost and it sure felt anti-climactic, like this can’t be the last game at Oracle. Now it’s here and it’s definite and it’s in the midst of this series that we’re trying to win, so there’s a lot going on.”
Before Game 6, the layered emotions were palpable, particularly in regards to what it cost Golden State to get to this point.
“It’s still raw, obviously,” Kerr said. “This has only been whatever it is, 48 hours, 72 hours, so I’ve texted, I’ve talked to some of the guys who have spoken with him. Everybody’s been reaching out to him and fortunately everything went well. And so tonight we’re thinking of him. I know our fans are all thinking about him.”
Durant is still recovering in New York from his surgery on Wednesday, but when the Warriors head out of the tunnel, they’ll see his initials everywhere.
“It’ll be great,” Cook said, nodding. “It’ll be great.”