For Oklahoma City fans, those memories will be rekindled Wednesday night when Durant and the Warriors face the Thunder for the second time this season at Oakland’s Oracle Arena, with flashback footage stoking the embers during ESPN’s national broadcast. There will almost certainly be scenes from Durant’s rise to stardom, including teaming with Russell Westbrook and James Harden to carry the Thunder to the 2012 NBA finals. And there will definitely be reminders of the bitterness brought by his departure — the burning jerseys, the “For Sale by Coward” signs outside Durant’s former residence, the Twitter videos questioning his heart.
For Mary Bowler and Amy Brewer, the feelings are more complicated. The two Thunder fans wrestled with dueling views of Durant. On the one hand, he is the superstar forward who spurned their favorite team to abet a chief competitor.
“I’m not gonna lie . . . I used to watch Golden State in previous seasons,” Bowler said. “But at the beginning of the season, I couldn’t watch them because I was still heartbroken about him leaving.”
But Durant is also a patron saint for Positive Tomorrows, a school for homeless children and their families in the Oklahoma City area. As a fourth-grade teacher and assistant principal, respectively, at the school, Bowler and Brewer witnessed firsthand how Durant’s generosity has helped grow the institution in unprecedented fashion — even after his departure for the Bay Area. That charity ultimately made the choice an easy one.
“There’s really not enough I could say about Kevin,” Brewer said. “It’s crazy. I’ve spent enough time with him that I feel like I know him. He lets us get that close to him. I think that’s what’s special about him.”
For the teachers and administrators at Positive Tomorrows, the memories of Durant walking their halls — spending his time and money on their students — trump those of his time on the court in Oklahoma City and quiet any sadness over his departure.
“I will never forget this 7-foot-tall guy crawling around on the floor of our classroom putting shoes on kids’ feet,” Susan Agel, the president and principal of Positive Tomorrows, said.
Agel remembers a few years back when Durant visited the school and personally gave out pairs of his signature Nike shoes to every student.
“He didn’t just hand out the shoes and watch,” Agel said. “He got down on the floor with them and helped them change their shoes, made sure everything fit, made sure they had socks. . . . I’ll never forget that. It was a very cool thing.”
Durant’s visit to the school three years ago helped forge a relationship that has only strengthened since, even after he left the area. Just last month, well after he had shattered the hopes of Thunder fans by joining Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green on the Warriors last summer, Durant made a $57,000 donation to the school, a sign that his partnership would survive what is now a long-distance relationship.
“I want to keep building, man,” Durant told The Post. “It’s not about me. It’s about what they’re doing in the community. But they’re doing the everyday work. They’re the ones who deserve the credit. I just have to put that out there because they’re doing the everyday work, they’re doing that grind work, they’re changing lives every single day.
“I’m just a small part of it. I was excited I got the opportunity to meet those people, but also to build with them year after year, and it meant a lot to me to keep it going.”
The bond began to form when Durant instructed his organization, the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation, to identify a program in need of assistance that was making a difference in the Oklahoma City community. Positive Tomorrows drew attention for its work with homeless families, educating children from preschool through fifth grade, as well as providing aid for parents. Primarily, the school works with children from local homeless and domestic violence shelters, as well as those in transitional housing referred to as “couch homeless,” those who move from place to place without any lasting residence. The goal is to help the children keep up with their education during those trying times and to help the parents ultimately find a stable living situation and transition back into a more typical daily life.
“I wanted to impact the community in a different way,” Durant said. “I was trying to find that specific program . . . not [specifically] Positive Tomorrows, but a program like that, helping homeless kids and their families and teaches them valuable lessons about school and life in general. . . . Here we have something beautiful that we can keep building.”
Since he first visited the school, Durant’s involvement has only increased. On a second trip he bought toys for the children, and he later noticed that the school’s faculty had developed an Amazon wish list. He purchased every item on it, including some DC motors and wires that allowed Shelly Fryer’s third- and fourth-grade students to build robots out of recyclables.
“It’s not something you can go to the hardware store and build 20 or 25 of,” Fryer said. “For teachers it’s nice to know we’re supported in the activities we want to do. Classroom teachers don’t have a lot of extra money to spend on supplies. . . . For the kids, it’s the whimsy, it’s the fun, it’s seeing ‘I can make something and I can do something.’ And kids are so excited to take those little projects home to show their parents.”
Durant’s gifts have been of the more enduring variety as well. A $35,000 donation allowed the school to build a new cafeteria, which in turn allowed for the old one to become a new classroom for Bowler’s fourth- and fifth-graders. It also allowed the school to increase its total enrollment from 58 to its current count of 74 and freed up a room for the school’s first preschool class.
“It was amazing,” said Brewer, who oversees the education program. “The timing was incredible. . . . It was just amazingly impactful.”
All of that came before Durant chose to leave Oklahoma City — a choice that left Agel wondering whether Durant would remain involved. Durant, though, kept in touch through his agent, Rich Kleiman, and asked how he could help this year.
The school had begun fundraising to purchase land for a new facility, with another Oklahoma City-area foundation promising Positive Tomorrows that if the school could raise $57,000, the foundation would provide it with another $50,000 for the land buy.
“What we needed was $57,000 to make this match to buy the land,” Agel said. “That’s more than what he’s done in the past, and [Kleiman] was like, ‘Anything he could do to get us to that amount, we’d be delighted.’ ”
When Kleiman brought the donation request up to Durant, it was a short conversation – one that ended with Durant writing a check for the full amount.
“It wasn’t even a conversation,” Durant recalled. “It was just part of the schedule. Positive Tomorrows needs something? All right, cool. Move on to the next thing.”
Agel said the school hopes to close on the property early in 2017 and already has architects working on plans for a new building that would enable Positive Tomorrows to double enrollment, to somewhere between 150 and 174.
“He gets nothing out of that, but he’s committed to us,” Brewer said. “And [even after] moving to California, his commitment has still been unwavering.”
Durant was happy to say the same. He may not be present on a daily basis anymore, but after spending eight years as a bedrock member of both the Thunder franchise and the Oklahoma City community at large, he wasn’t about to stop trying to make a difference there.
“Just because I’m not there no more doesn’t mean I can’t keep building with them, you know?” Durant said. “They had nothing to do with this.
“I was there for so long, and I built a bond with that community, with the Oklahoma City community, and that school, I just feel like it’s a part of me. . . . And, if they need help in the future, they know who to come to.”
Durant decided that his path led away from Oklahoma City, but he left a piece of himself back in the Midwest, with a school full of kids who could use a helping hand. And, in return, he has a small pocket of support in what has otherwise largely become enemy territory.
“I really never understood the haters when he left because the mark he’s left on this city is indelible,” Brewer said. “It has been transformed. It’s a different place. . . . That is due, in no small part, to Kevin.”