The last time Kevin Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder descended on Verizon Center, back on Jan. 22, the game itself, a thrilling Thunder overtime victory, was a mere sideshow to the unusual scene surrounding the event.
At front and center was the Summer of Durant, even though his foray into free agency loomed nearly 17 months away at the time. Fans cheered for Durant and made signs calling for the Seat Pleasant native to come home. They wore customized Wizards jerseys with Durant’s name on the back and an in-game weather report on the jumbotron featured a weatherman in his own made-to-order Durant garb, pleading for the former MVP to join the Wizards.
Durant noticed the hysteria. On Sunday, he called the fans’ behavior “disrespectful” following the Thunder’s win over the Phoenix Suns and repeated that opinion with reporters Monday, noting that fans should cheer for the playoff team the Wizards have become. At least one current Wizard agrees.
“It is disrespectful because he plays for Oklahoma City,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said Monday. “He doesn’t play for Washington.”
A similar scene is expected Tuesday when Durant and the Thunder return for their lone annual visit to the District. If anything, it’ll be intensified. Barring a finals matchup, the meeting will be the final one in Washington before the Durant Sweepstakes launch in July.
“It’s the same I said last year,” said Wizards point guard John Wall, who has occasionally worked out with Durant over the offseason. “We can’t worry about what Kevin Durant’s doing. He’s worried about his OKC team and me and Brad and the other 13 guys on the team, we’re worried about the Washington Wizards. We’re not here to tank and not try to make the playoffs and not try to win a championship and do those things.”
The Wizards’ intention to make a run at Durant is obvious. They have maneuvered their payroll to have the salary cap space to for the four-time scoring champion and six-time all-star. The latest example was the team deciding not to offer Beal a contract extension for the max before last Tuesday’s deadline. The strategy has fueled the #KD2DC movement’s fire.
“They are fans. At the end of the day, they pay my salary so they can do whatever they want to do,” Wizards center Marcin Gortat said. “Obviously, listen, Kevin Durant has a huge fanbase and wherever he goes he has thousands of people cheering for him and we can’t be mad about that.”
Fans rooting for the visiting team at Verizon Center is customary when marquee teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls come to town. While it has improved since the Wizards have started winning more in recent years, it still happens, Wall noted — such as when he was booed at the free-throw line in Washington’s home opener against the Knicks this season.
“I mean it gets frustrating at times. And then you see it turns when you’re winning and they all of a sudden want to be one page,” Wall said. “That’s frustrating because we come out here and we bust our tail every day to try to compete and win for this city and I feel like we deserve the same kind of respect.
“So you know you’re going to hear some cheers tomorrow and you’re going to see some chants and you’re going to see some jerseys but I think we need some more fans supporting us. They want us to do well. That’s like us going to another team and putting on another jersey.”