A large contingent of Wizards fans showed their love for D.C. native Kevin Durant on Wednesday at Verizon Center and the Oklahoma City Thunder forward reminded everyone why it’s all right to get at least a little excited about the possibility of him returning home for good when he becomes a free agent in 2016.
“It’s cool, Durant said of the KD2DC movement before justifying the hype with 34 points, including a posterization of Marcin Gortat and a contested three-pointer in overtime, in the Thunder’s 105-103 win.
There were entrepreneurs selling cheap T-shirts outside.
Local TV reporters tagged along for the latest gathering of the Wiz Happy Hour meetup group — complete with Durant mask cutouts — at Penn Commons before the game.
Fans sported all sorts of KD-themed T-shirt designs inside.
The loudest cheers of the game were reserved for the home team, including John Wall’s buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the first quarter and Paul Pierce’s go-ahead three-pointer in the final minute of regulation, but Durant received a noticeably loud ovation during pregame introductions.
There were custom Durant jerseys galore.
Kevin Taylor of Fairfax Station wore a Montrose Christian High School jersey featuring Durant’s name and high school number. (If you didn’t know any better, you could’ve mistaken the 17-year-old Taylor for a Montrose Christian student. Members of the Rockville school’s middle school basketball team scrimmaged during halftime. How’s that for planning?)
Taylor and his dad sat behind the Thunder bench on Wednesday in hopes of getting noticed by Durant and appearing on SportsCenter.
“We want him,” Taylor, a lifelong Wizards fan, said of the Thunder star. “We want to go to the NBA Finals. John Wall, Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant, Gortat and Nene? I mean, that’s the best starting five in the league. We’ve done great things [without Durant]. I think we can go to the Eastern Conference finals, maybe the NBA Finals this year. We can beat the Hawks. But I know John Wall’s been in Durant’s ear for a couple of years, and I think he’d be a good fit.”
Ben Luong wore a replica Wizards jersey with Durant’s name and number from a knockoff retailer overseas after his attempts to purchase a jersey on NBA.com failed. (The NBA store doesn’t allow fans to create custom Durant jerseys, but there are some clever workarounds.)
“I even tried to set up the Yahoo account Stevie.Durant@yahoo.com and tried to plead the case that I’m 35 years old,” Luong said. “This is injustice.”
Luong, who grew up in Detroit, adopted the Wizards as his new hometown team after moving to the area about eight years ago. He’s already excited for a day when fans can purchase authentic Durant Wizards jerseys online.
“I think the team has enough financial flexibility to” bring Durant to D.C., Luong said. “We are right on course. A lot can happen in two years, but even if everything stays status quo, I think there’s a great chance. It would be a great addition.”
Sam Nguyen of Hyattsville sported the craftiest Durant jersey of the night by applying duct tape to a blank Wizards jersey that he won during the 2011-12 season.
“I decided today last minute to turn it into a Kevin Durant jersey to begin the courting of Kevin Durant,” said Nguyen, whose jersey was signed by members of the 2011-12 team. “You’ve got John Wall and then you’ve got the boneheads of back in the day. Javale McGee, Nick Young, Andray Blatche, Jordan Crawford. But you’ve got John Wall, that’s all that matters.”
Except that Wall isn’t all that matters to the KD2DC crowd.
“Yeah, I hope to get Durant’s autograph one day on this makeshift jersey,” Nguyen said.
There were KD2DC signs, too. Taylor’s ‘KD 2 DC 2016’ sign was shown during ESPN’s broadcast.
There was a sign-making table, with markers and poster board, on the main concourse outside Suite 111. The materials were free for anyone to use, but the Wizards employee supervising the table discouraged fans from writing Durant-related messages.
The most impressive sign hung in front of Section 406, a 20-foot-long ‘KD4DC 2016’ banner featuring images inspired by the iconic Obama ‘HOPE’ poster at both ends. (Obama’s face was replaced by Durant’s face and ‘HOPE’ was changed to ‘HOME.’) The banner was a collaboration between friends Eric Ansari and Kayla Brewster.
“My buddy’s a graphic designer, so I had him make the ‘HOME’ posters,” Ansari said. “He sent me the design and I just printed it out at Kinko’s. We did all the painting in like an hour.”
Ansari said ushers initially told his group of friends that they couldn’t hang the banner, but they did anyway, and weren’t asked to take it down. “KD’s going to be going this way in the second half,” Ansari said.”We hope he sees it.”
The signs, the jerseys, the sellout crowd, a back-and-forth game and ESPN’s presence all contributed to the excitement of the night.
“This is kind of like a playoff atmosphere,” one of the founders of ComeHomeKD.com told me at halftime. “It doesn’t feel like a normal game.”
Early in the fourth quarter, two movements collided when Durant stepped to the free throw line with free Chick-fil-A at stake. If Durant missed both free throws, every fan in the building would win a free chicken sandwich. He missed the first and made the second.
After the game and his on-court interview with ESPN, Durant was cheered as he headed toward the tunnel. For now, KD2DC gives way to KD2ATL. The Thunder visit the Hawks on Friday. In 2016, who knows?