By Rob Johnson
Special to S.F. Examiner
SEATTLE — Before Kevin Durant was an NBA All-Star, before he was raking in multiple NBA scoring-titles, before he was winning gold medals with Team USA Basketball, before he was a regular season NBA MVP, before taking home back-to-back NBA Finals MVPs with the Golden State Warriors, and even before he had facial hair, he was a Seattle SuperSonic.
“A lot of stuff started here in Seattle, a lot of habits, a lot of experiences that I went through that year as a rookie,” Durant said.
In his return to Seattle on Friday night, during Golden State’s 122-94 exhibition win over the Sacramento Kings, Durant finished as the game’s second-leading scorer with 26 points. For all the accolades he’s piled up since he and the Sonics departed, though, Durant still felt butterflies upon his return.
“When I woke up from my pregame nap, I was just nervous. I’ve never felt that way coming into a game, especially a preseason game,” said Durant. “It was just a crazy feeling to feel that much love from the fan base … it was breathtaking.”
Before the game even started, there was already plenty of excitement in KeyArena. Then, Durant surprised a sold-out crowd by wearing a forest-green/ruby-red throwback Shawn Kemp jersey during introductions.
“I’m not really big on surprises, but I just thought’d be cool to honor one of the past legends,” said a smiling Durant. “… I learned so much here as a rookie in the practice facility. I honed my skills here, my routine, my professionalism, just everything. I remember my start here as a young pup and now I know my flow of things as an NBA player. It’s cool to come back here and play at this point in my career.”
For all the attention on Durant’s return, game-high scorer Klay Thompson (30) scored 19 points in the first quarter and reminded everyone he, too, has Pacific Northwest ties, being a Washington State alum.
“I saw a lot of Cougs in the building, and that motivated me,” said Thompson. “Once a Coug always a Coug. It did not feel like a preseason game with the energy … you could almost touch the energy with your hands.”
It was more than just a game, it was a celebration of Seattle.
NBA legend Bill Russell, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russel Wilson and the Seattle Storm’s 2018 WNBA champions Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart were all in attendance to witness basketball’s return to the Emerald City.
“So many people know what the Sonics culture is, and I think that’s something that the NBA can’t ignore,” explained Durant. “I think tonight was kind of the cherry on top as far as saying we deserve a team here, we’ll support a team, and they need to bring one back. We’re going to keep saying it until it happens.”