Pictures that include kids are the most interesting when hate and invective fill an arena, when so-called adults froth at the mouth and hurl vile insults at a fellow human being.
That scene played out Saturday at Oklahoma City when former favorite son Kevin Durant made his first appearance since bolting for Golden State. Cupcake props, “KowarD” T-shirts and all manner of derogatory homemade signs complemented the verbal abuse that Thunder fans dished throughout the game.
“The most vicious things you could say, they said about my son tonight,” Wanda Durant told ESPN after the Warriors’ 130-114 victory. “We poured our heart into this place. Not just him. Our family. This is basketball. This is not whether or not you’re going to make it into heaven.”
Some children seemed genuinely confused, understandably so.
Yes, Durant’s decision to leave was painful, but this is grown-ups’ way of processing pain? This is what mature behavior looks like, compared to antics of spoiled fifth-graders? He’s now a worthless piece of trash, eight seasons as OKC’s pride and joy instantly obliterated by his career choice last summer?
“Daddy, why is everybody being so mean to KD?”
“Well, kids, he doesn’t play for our team anymore; he’s the enemy.”
“But isn’t he the same person we used to love?”
“Go do your homework.”
Durant helped turn OKC into an NBA powerhouse. He was invested in the community as much as the team. It was a perfect match throughout the relationship, a college-like city embracing a low-key, drama-free superstar from D.C. who never looked down on the southwesterners’ way of life.
I understand that fans are upset about his departure. They feel like scorned lovers and their emotions run deep. They also can’t stand the team that Durant picked over theirs, a squad that makes the Thunder look homely by comparison. I get it.
But judging by shots of the crowd, some kids didn’t know what to make of the animosity all around them. They seemed baffled by the amusement in excoriating a recently beloved local icon. They were in the wrong place to find perspective or learn the definition of appreciation.
Civility was nonexistent and class was a foreign concept.
It reminded me of LeBron James’ first game back in Cleveland after he left to join the Miami Heat. Of course, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert had primed fans for maximum vitriol and hostility when he wrote an infantile open letter following “The Decision.” Gilbert ripped James’ for his “cowardly betrayal”, his “shameful display of selfishness,” his “shocking act of disloyalty” and his “heartless and callous action.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr was part of the TNT broadcast team when James returned to Cleveland in December 2010. “That (crowd) might have been a little nastier,” Kerr told reporters Saturday night. “I remember that well.
“I think a lot of those people who were burning LeBron jerseys when he left were at the parade last year when he won. That’s sports.”
Fickleness is nothing to brag about. Neither are other aspects of “sports” that sprout from the seeds of verbal assault, like fan-on-fan violence or parent-on-coach/official violence. While there’s a huge difference between a barrage of words and a barrage of fists, the emotion that fuels both is quite similar.
It has led to severe injuries and even death in some cases. Try explaining that to a kid.
“I don’t think any of us can imagine what he was thinking out there, the emotions going through his mind,” Kerr said. “Kind of a strange event. You have people who know you, love you, but they’re screaming and yelling and call you names. Kind of a weird feeling. But he handled it beautifully and played a great game.”
One day, Durant’s No. 35 jersey should be hung from the rafters. He should be invited back for a ceremony at halfcourt on “Kevin Durant Day,” receiving a long, loud standing ovation. He should be shown the love and appreciation he earned during the franchise’s first eight seasons in Oklahoma.
I didn’t expect Thunder fans to give him a warm welcome Saturday. Heartfelt but good-natured booing, sure. Vigorous but harmful venting, absolutely. Frequent but tame taunting, absolutely. A little trash-talking never hurt anyone when done in the spirit of fun.
But the team and its fans blew a great opportunity for a teachable moment before that. They could have adopted a posture closer to “thank you” than “blank you.”
A tribute video would’ve been a pleasant surprise, shocking even considering the current state of public speech. Maybe some kind words from the owner or general manager before the tip, followed by gracious joshing and ribbing afterward.
“I’m all for booing the player, but cheer the man,” Kerr said.”
Here’s hoping every kid – and more adults – can grasp that lesson and make that distinction.