Category: Sports Written by Nick Pitts
On Friday, Kevin Durant broke the news that he was leaving the Thunder and, in turn, broke the hearts of Oklahoma fans around the country. After nine years with the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant is joining the powerhouse Golden State Warriors. And as you might expect, the visceral reaction has been telling.
"Weak move by KD," the always candid and never tactful Steven A. Smith tweeted. "You go to GSW, the team who beat you, when you're already on a title contender? Please!" He added in USA Today: "Kevin Durant is one of the top three players in the world and he ran away from the challenge that he faces in order to jump on the bandwagon of a team that's a little bit better."
Smith used words, but many Thunder fans communicated with their actions. Using the Fourth of July weekend, and a readily available assortment of tools dealing with fire, many took time to set ablaze their Durant jersey and other memorabilia. Others took to social media, vacillating between anger at him, appreciation of him, and mourning because of him. And then there was comedian Frank Caliendo's response. He impersonated Morgan Freeman voice as he read Durant's op-ed.
The responses have been varied but many appear have come from a deep place. The reactions, regardless of whether they were positive or negative, reveal the significance of Durant's impact and personality upon the Oklahoma City community.
To think of Oklahoma City is to picture Kevin Durant. Over nine years, both the city and the team worked to make Durant the face of the city. He donated $1 million back in 2013 to the American Red Cross to assist with disaster relief efforts in the wake of a tornado that swept through Oklahoma. With his "Build it and They will Ball" initiative, he helped build two basketball courts behind Oklahoma City's North Highland Elementary School. He gave toys to underprivileged kids at Christmastime with his toy drives and visited schools to read to children. The Plaza Towers Elementary School has a new playground because of him. Positive Tomorrows, Oklahoma's only elementary school specifically for homeless children, has a renovated school kitchen because of his $35,000 donation.
Oklahoma City will not be the same because of him, nor will heaven.
Besides going to chapel before every game, Durant wrote on Beyond the Ultimate that he reads his bible every day. "The Bible both pumps me up and balances me to play my best, but it also tells me more about the Lord and how I can live for Him and what all He has done for me."
He goes on to say how he lives for eternity, believing that what he does today has an eternal perspective to it. Telling Beliefnet, "I've just got to be thankful to the Lord for what the gifts He's given me. My gift back to Him is to always be humble and to always try to work as hard as I can."
Today, many are hurt because of his love. Our deepest wounds are often tied to our most significant loves. Durant loved God and in turn his community well. And over the past nine years, they have loved him back. They have loved him with their applause, attendance, and purchasing his memorabilia—among many other expressions. But now, he leaves. Because of that, he has left a mark that will forever change Oklahoma City and heaven.
But Durant models a way to make an eternal impact in an increasingly hostile world. Much has been said about the culture wars and its many battlefronts. Abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, abstinence education, the list goes on and on. Also going on and on is the list of unmet expectations with elected officials who promised change on these issues. But could the solution be a Durant option?
Yuval Levine writes in his work The Fractured Republic that there must be a shift in focus from the federal level to the local level. This is not a retreat from the federal level, just an emphasis upon the local.
"Focusing on your own near-at-hand community does not involve a withdrawal from contemporary America, but an increased attentiveness to it." He goes on to write that, "emphasizing the needs and well-being of one's near-at-hand community first and foremost can be, for social conservatives, not an alternative to fighting for the soul of the larger society, but a most effective means of doing so."
Levine argues for a local level engagement, Durant modeled it, and Jeremiah demonstrated it in the Scriptures. In a foreign land away from his home, Jeremiah worked for the good of the land and the people, despite their hostility towards him (Jeremiah 29:7). They were better because of him.
Durant leaves Oklahoma City in a better place, on the court and off. His absence will be felt as he departs, just as his presence will be welcomed in Oakland. While it is hard to replace a former MVP, but it will be far more difficult to fill his work shoes than his basketball sneakers. He may break fans' hearts as their new enemy on the court, but he changed their lives because he was a good citizen off the court.