The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Sick of Bryce-Harper-to-Yankees rumors? Kevin Durant fans in OKC feel your pain

(By Toni L. Sandys / The Washington Post)

The message to Yankees fans and national media members is simple: Back off.

Seriously, the MVP candidate’s blockbuster free agency derby is still years away. Who cares what team he rooted for as a kid? Who cares how much logic motivates these whimsical connect-the-dots scenarios? This is the franchise player local fans have waited for since relocation, the most popular athlete in town, a young, marketable superstar who can’t stop talking about how much he loves his new home. So why is there one headline after another prematurely imagining him fleeing to a bigger, sexier city? Who does that?

Oh. Right. Uh, sorry about that, Oklahoma City fans.

Last week’s spasm of Bryce-Harper-to-the-Yankees (in 2019) hype felt like karmic recompense for Washington sports fans who started salivating over Kevin Durant years before the D.C. native hit free agency. As with Durant, the Harper hype was fueled by speculation more than information. As with Durant, it was based on childhood allegiances, and the allure of a larger market. As with Durant, Harper was asked by the big-city reporters whether he’s considered the possibility of switching teams; as with Durant, Harper deflected the questions and talked about how much he likes his current tean.

But as with Durant, that didn’t stop the cawing media vultures from picking every bit of flesh off the carcass.

Harper in pinstripes was the lead story on The network tweeted about the possibility to its 19 million followers. Mike Francesa talked about it on his WFAN show, saying “a lot of people came away with the idea that Harper wanted to be [in New York] in the future.” Peter Gammons considered the possibility, saying “I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility by any means.” The L.A. Times weighed in, pointing out that Harper grew up idolizing Vin Scully, and noting that “Harper might well judge the Dodgers as the team that gives him the best chance to win.” Business Insider claimed “Harper’s marketing potential is Derek Jeter-ian,” and argued that “the Yankees may be the only team that will be able to afford Harper.”

ESPN’s Buster Olney posited that it “would be shocking if Harper isn’t wearing a Yankees uniform on Opening Day in 2019.”ESPN’s Andrew Marchand penned a look “at why a ‘Bryce cheer’ might replace a ‘Bronx cheer,’ and why it may not.” And ESPN play-by-play man Dan Shulman said he would make the Yankees the betting favorite to become Harper’s future home, a future that won’t hit until year three of the Jeb Bush Administration.

“If you gave me Yankees or the field, I’d take the Yankees,” Shulman said on TSN 1050 Toronto. “Harper has made no secret of the fact that he likes the Yankees. He was out at Monument Park. He’ll be 26 years old when he becomes a free agent … He’s a Scott Boras client; he’s got an affinity for the Yankees.  I mean, these aren’t difficult dots to connect here.”

[Yankees fans are ready for the Bryce Harper era]

Nats fans didn’t seem to enjoy this business, which felt something like a colleague bringing an interior decorator into your office three years before a performance review. (A really loud colleague.) And if you’re now looking for a sympathetic shoulder to tweet upon, Oklahoma City might have a few to offer.

“You learn to take things in stride and not have an emotional reaction,” counseled Chuck Chaney, the founder and editor of news site Thunder Obsessed, who has seen countless jolts of Durant-to-D.C. hysteria. “As a fan, it’s out of your hands. And if you’re going to sit there and read those stories every single day, you’re going to go insane. Remember, it’s three years down the road, so just kind of laugh about it and go about your business.”

“The approach is am I going to have fun with this, or am I going to allow this to take hold of me on a really emotional level?” agreed J.A. Sherman, a former Washingtonian and the managing editor of Thunder news site Welcome to Loud City. “Until you hear something that is different from what has been clearly stated from the primary stakeholder, there’s really very little reason to believe any of it. It’s just noise. It’s just news cycle.”

[KD2DC movement sweeps Verizon Center]

Still, it’s now easier to sympathize with OKC  fans for rolling their eyes at Washingtonians with red-white-and-blue Durant jerseys, the ones who brought Durant signs or wore Durant t-shirts when the Thunder visited Verizon Center in January. Because when the Yankees fans started chanting about 2019 last week, and when Olney posted a mock-up of a potential “77” Harper Yankees jersey, well, it felt like yet another New York story belittling Washington’s food scene — pregnant with the suggestion that D.C. just doesn’t measure up.

“I think there’s this high level of sensitivity about Durant leaving because Oklahoma City’s not good enough for him,” said Royce Young, a lifelong Oklahoman who covers the Thunder for ESPN. Fans “definitely pay attention to that stuff, they click on it so they can leave a comment and say ‘this is stupid, why are we even talking about this?’ But deep down inside, they’re doing it because of the crippling fear that they know it’s possible.”

In any case, these Harper stories — as Oklahomans have learned — won’t go away. You can’t mock them out of existence, and neither will Harper’s late-night photos of the Mall make them stop, any more than Durant’s civic acts in Oklahoma quieted the speculation. The only solution? Spend more time watching games, and less time studying quotes and searching Twitter.

“In all seriousness, the best advice is to try not to read everything,” Young said. “There are no tea leaves out there, there are no crumbs on the ground to follow, there’s no information to parse through. … The thing I tell Thunder fans is to try to appreciate the hell out of the guy. Even if he does leave, they will have had eight years of one of the greatest players of all time playing in their city, and that’s something to appreciate.”

“If you spend three years worrying about a player leaving, you won’t enjoy the time he’s on your team,” advised E.A. Flame, a Thunder fan from Oklahoma. “So enjoy them while you have them — you don’t know how long it will last.”