“That’ll be a nice homecoming,” Wizards play-by-play man Steve Buckhantz said during Monday’s blowout win, while discussing Kevin Durant’s upcoming trip to Verizon Center. “It’ll be interesting to see how many of the fans turn out with KD to DC shirts and other memorabilia.”
Phil Chenier, Buckhantz’s longtime Comcast SportsNet partner, professed ignorance on this topic. So moments later, after filling his colleague in, Buckhantz made a prediction about Wednesday night’s environment.
“I think there will be cheers for” Durant, Buckhantz said. “There will be ovations. There will be urging by the fans. … It is a bit of recruiting visit, if you will.”
Count Ray Hyre among the sort-of recruiters.
“I’ll definitely cheer for him, but I don’t want to cheer too much, because I’m a Wizards fan,” said Hyre, who plans to wear a Wizards-themed KD ’16 t-shirt to Verizon Center. “I don’t want to say it’s a recruitment, because he’s still under contract for two more years. But I get a kick out of the whole KD coming home thing, just like everybody else does.”
After months of “KD to DC” hype — the catchphrase for those pining after a Durant free agent signing next year — Durant is actually coming to Washington this week, and this visit feels different from those in the past. For the first time since 2008, Durant’s Thunder will visit D.C. with a worse record than Washington’s. The Wizards are seen as the hot team on the rise — with pending salary cap space, to boot — while Durant’s future is unclear. The Prince George’s County native frequently mentions his love for all things Washington, including the Redskins and Nats. And at least some Wizards fans have spent months working themselves into a speculative frenzy: with Durant-to-D.C. t-shirts and custom jerseys, with social media hashtags and careful readings of every word Durant speaks.
“You’re gonna slowly start seeing more and more people wearing shirts; you’re gonna start hearing more and more chants,” said Jed Seifert, one of the founders of BringKDHome.com, one of at least two sites devoted to this cause. “The excitement about him is evident everywhere in D.C.”
If that’s an overstatement about the city at large, it probably isn’t among diehard Wizards fans. Seifert, whose site debuted its eighth Durant-to-D.C. shirt design Tuesday, said they’ve sold more than a thousand shirts. Another site, ComeHomeKD.com, has sold well over a hundred t-shirts featuring Durant in Wizards colors and the D.C. flag. Yet another site, the #KD2DC Spreadshirt site, will sell you iPhone covers, buttons and hoodies with Durant’s head floating above a Wizards logo. Hyre — who shares a birthday with Durant — gave KD-to-D.C. shirts to three family members for Christmas, and owns two himself.
Bullets Forever introduced a guide this week for circumventing the NBA Store’s prohibition on Wizards Durant jerseys. The Wizards Happy Hour group held a #KD2DC-themed party when Washington played in Oklahoma City earlier this month, and seemingly every home game produces a new image of hometown hero hope. (Monday’s was a custom Wizards jersey combining Easymoneysniper — Durant’s Instagram handle — with his uniform number.)
— Ryan Gracia (@rgracia2378) January 19, 2015
“Everybody’s so hyped,” said one of the founders of ComeHomeKD.com, who asked that his name not be used because of his real job. “Obviously the end goal is getting Durant to come here and bring a championship to the city. I think that’s the end goal for everybody, right?”
While it all makes sense, it’s tempting to wonder whether the Durant excitement could in some way overshadow Washington’s best team in 30 years. It feels, at times, like the 7-year old who has hardly unfinished unwrapping her birthday presents before she starts making her Hanukkah list. The Wizards have a budding superstar in John Wall and a realistic shot to reach the Eastern Conference finals; isn’t that more important than a 2016 free agent?
“From time to time, I kind of worry about that, but people are going to get excited about what they get excited about,” said Jake Whitacre, the site manager for Bullets Forever, SB Nation’s Wizards community. “Unless Durant comes out and says, ‘I will never go home,’ I don’t think it’ll stop. We can’t avoid it.”
“You can be excited about the present while also being excited about the future,” Seifert argued. “As good as the team is now, couldn’t you imagine how good they would be if they had Kevin Durant on there? It’s impossible not to think that way.”
— John T. Kelley (@jkelley4444) July 27, 2014
Indeed, Durant has been asked about coming home repeatedly in recent years — local kids as young as 4 have popped the question, he told USA Today, and his mom was asked the question on WRC this week. Durant usually manages to blandly deflect the issue, but not blandly enough to prevent more headlines and hashtags. Which is why some wonder if the current environment in Washington — the excitement and expectations — might do more harm than good.
“I’m kind of on the fence about it really,” said Tim Mason, who recently photographed a fan in a Durant Wizards jersey roaming Verizon Center. “I feel like the hype about it may be something that would push him away from here.”
“Sometimes you wonder, is D.C. going overboard in their recruiting of him, which might ultimately turn him off?” asked Kyle Weidie, the founder and editor of Wizards site Truth About It. “With it being so far down the road, and with how fast things can change in the NBA and in pro sports, a lot of it just seems disingenuous and cheap … sort of creating an unnecessary frenzy.”
But Weidie also said it might be unfair to criticize fans for getting excited about something that’s undeniably exciting. Because how many Wizards fans do you think would support Durant’s arrival?
“Probably 99.9 percent,” Mason said. “I’m pretty sure everybody I talk to wants it.”
“One hundred percent,” Whitacre said. “I’ve never heard anyone say we shouldn’t do this.”
“One thousand,” Seifert offered. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want Kevin Durant to come home. He’s the most lovable superstar, possibly in all of sports.”
“Even if people want to be more even-keeled about it, no one would ever say I don’t want Kevin Durant,” Weidie agreed.
Can't wait to watch @JPughNBC4 exclusive sit down with Kevin Durant's mom about KD's future and if he wants to come home! Tuesday at 5.
— Dianna Marie Russini (@NBCdianna) January 20, 2015
Which brings us back to Wednesday night. There will almost certainly be signs asking Durant to come home. There will be cheers. Some have wondered whether there will be outright chants for Durant, either before or even during the game. And there will definitely, definitely be shirts.
“I’m still thinking about those KD2DC shirts,” Chenier mused during Monday’s game.
“You need to get a couple of those,” Buckhantz said.
“Extra large,” Chenier offered. “In case you’re wondering.”