SEATTLE — The memories came back quickly for Kevin Durant as he entered KeyArena on Friday night. The 30-year-old superstar remembered walking down the same walkway he used as a rookie for the Seattle Supersonics in 2007. He appreciated the loud cheers he got both in pregame warmups and after being announced in the starting lineup — the two-time NBA Finals MVP had Seattle fans rocking as he walked to the floor in those introductions wearing a Shawn Kemp Sonics jersey.
“I think every NBA player at this point knows that Seattle needs a basketball team,” Durant said before the game. “It’s obviously over the top of our heads, but [we’ll] continue to show support for the city of Seattle. I think that’s what everybody wants to do.”
Durant reiterated that message prior to tip-off while addressing the sellout crowd. He first shouted out the WNBA champion Seattle Storm, adding that he was hopeful an NBA team would return to the city soon. It was an emotional night for many in attendance as Seattle hosted an NBA game for the first time in over 10 years since the Sonics relocated and became the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr walked to his pregame news conference wearing a green Sonics T-shirt, repeating the same message he discussed several times in advance of this game: The NBA should be back in Seattle.
“I’ve always loved the Sonics brand, I’ve loved the city,” Kerr said. “The fan base was always an incredible place to play. It reminded me a lot of Oracle actually, coming to KeyArena when I played. Just kind of organic. The fans here love basketball, it’s a hot bed with a lot of great players who come from Seattle. So I’m hoping the Sonics return some day. I guess this is my way of supporting that cause.”
Seattle fans came ready for a celebration Friday night as old Sonics jerseys popped up all over the arena. Seattle sports royalty including NBA Hall of Famers Bill Russell, Gary Payton and Lenny Wilkens sat courtside along with Storm stars Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson also sat courtside standing and applauding, while Seahawks coach Pete Carroll sat just a few seats away. Former Sonics forward Detlef Schrempf received a raucous ovation prior to the game when he unzipped his hoodie on the video screen to reveal a T-shirt with an old Sonics logo.
“I think it’s special because it brings back memories of what basketball was here,” Wilkens said before the game. “And certainly winning a championship here leaves a legacy, and it’s a legacy I don’t feel we have ever lost.”
Kerr and his players and coaches spent the morning at the Seahawks facility meeting with Carroll and his players on their tour of Seattle.
“We were very inspired by their approach to the game, their approach to practice,” Durant said of his time with the Seahawks. “Just the overall IQ you have to have for the game of football, I think we all can relate to [how] important that is.”
Wilkens and many other players and coaches are hoping that Friday night’s game and the celebration of basketball that occurred will remind the NBA just how passionate the Seattle area is about having another team to call their own.
“There’s an awakening so to speak,” Wilkens said. “But people have been fans for a long time, they just haven’t had a place to channel it. So they get disappointed they don’t have a team here that they can root for themselves. So certainly tonight should give an indication I would think.”