Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s reunion was as icy as expected
The former teammates didn’t say a word to each other during the first Warriors-Thunder matchup
To no surprise, the leg room at his Oracle Arena seat was too tight to fit his 7-foot-3 frame for the showdown between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. So former Oklahoma City Thunder giant of a center Hasheem Thabeet watched the highly anticipated matchup from a lounge area inside the arena instead, looking directly into a hanging flat-screen television.
When they were all together, Thabeet regularly spent time hanging out with his old Thunder teammates Durant and Westbrook. Durant’s Fourth of July firework of a decision to depart to the Golden State Warriors from Oklahoma City, however, with nothing more than a mere text to deliver the news to Westbrook instantly separated the All-Star duo. Four months later, the relationship has yet to be repaired.
Thabeet believes the NBA superstars turned rivals will one day be close again. But the healing process could take some time as there appeared to be no rush for reconciliation during the Warriors’ 122-96 rout of the Thunder in Oakland, California, Thursday night.
“They are grown men. At some point, they will find a way to handle it. We all use to hang out together. It’s nothing personal at all. The guy had to make a different move,” Thabeet told The Undefeated.
The bold move Durant made has been discussed and dissected countless times since he chose the Warriors, the team that overcame a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 Western Conference finals to eliminate the Thunder. Durant, known as one of the nicest guys in the NBA, was suddenly vilified for his decision to join fellow All-Stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
NBA fans appear to either love Durant or hate him now regardless of his right to free agency this past summer.
“He chose here,” Thabeet said. “It’s not like it’s something that he was talking about like, ‘I can’t wait to leave here. I can’t wait to leave OKC.’ He was never like that. But I guess he got to a point where he had to make a change …
“Making moves like that, someone is going to become a villain at some point. But he’s doing his thing.”
Oklahoma City’s all-time leading scorer had to face his past at some point and Thursday was that night as Westbrook and Oklahoma City came to East Oakland. While the emotions weren’t as high as Durant’s first return to Oklahoma City on Feb. 11, 2017, is expected to be, this was about as highly anticipated as a fifth contest of an 82-game season as any NBA team could have.
Durant has since said he wished he had handled his departure better with Westbrook. Westbrook, however, hasn’t grabbed the olive branch as he said following a win over the host Los Angeles Clippers a night earlier that he was not answering any more questions about Durant.
Durant has been politically correct when answering questions about Westbrook, the Thunder and Oklahoma City since arriving at the Warriors. But he revealed that his kindness hasn’t been rewarded.
“One thing I was doing too much of was I was trying to be delicate with everyone’s feelings, especially the fan base in OKC, and my former teammates,” Durant told The Undefeated. “I had to realize that they don’t care. They’re going to dissect what they’re going to dissect. I was trying to be really considerate of their feelings and everything.”
A hot-scoring Durant certainly wasn’t considerate of their feelings once the game started.
He scored the Warriors’ first basket on one of his career-high tying seven 3-pointers and finished the reunion with 39 points, including 29 in the first half. Per Elias Sports Bureau, the 6-foot-9, 240-pounder’s 39 points tied the most scored by a player in his first game against his former team. Former Sacramento Kings guard Danny Ainge set the record with 39 against the Boston Celtics on Dec. 27, 1989, while former New Jersey Nets guard Stephon Marbury scored 39 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Dec. 20, 2000.
“I don’t want to say that any part of the game was strange,” Durant said. “I moved on. I’m part of the Golden State Warriors. I’m excited to be part of the team. What I did those last eight years was special and something I’m never going to forget.”
Durant said any emotions he had were before tipoff.
“But I’m trying to look forward,” he said. “I try to separate those emotions and feelings and do my job.”
The highlight for the Thunder in a lackluster performance in which they were down as many as 31 points was newcomer forward Jerami Grant dunking hard over Durant with 3:06 left in the first quarter. The Thunder were actually up 29-19 at the time, and Grant and his teammates verbally made sure Durant was aware.
“When you get dunked on like that, you want to come back and ignite your team,” Durant said.
“Did [Grant] say a few words? That’s not a good idea,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I think that did get [Durant] going a little bit.”
Durant scored 10 of the Warriors’ final 12 points in the first quarter to trim the deficit to 32-31. He added 16 points in the second quarter to spark the Warriors to a 25-point halftime lead, 68-43, that was never challenged.
Thunder reserve forward Enes Kanter oddly talked trash from the bench to Durant in the second half. But it was too late and carried little weight, since he spent all but three minutes and 28 seconds on the bench.
“[Kanter] was trying to talk to me. How many minutes did he play? Three minutes,” Durant teased.
Westbrook entered the game averaging a triple-double with 37.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10 assists. The new lone face of the Thunder finished with 20 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and six turnovers. He is looking forward to the rematch that will take place on Feb. 11, 2017, when Durant returns to Oklahoma City for the first time since departing.
“The Warriors were doing a lot of trash-talking,” Westbrook said. “I guess they talk a lot of trash now. But we’ll see how that goes. We’ll get ready for the next game. It’s one game, one loss for us. We’ll move on …
“I guess that’s what they do. We’ll see them again.”
Even with all the barking, Durant and Westbrook apparently never said a word to one another on or off the court.
Durant was the last player to walk onto the Oracle Arena floor following introductions, and by the time he did, Westbrook was already standing far under the visiting basket focused on the game and not a peace treaty handshake.
Durant said he didn’t talk to anyone from the Thunder on that night. However, he did exchange pleasantries with Thunder assistant coach and former teammate Royal Ivey after the game. Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder players and coaches headed straight to the locker room.
Durant and Westbrook actually went to chapel at the same time before the game, but said they didn’t speak.
“I don’t talk to anybody in chapel. I listen to the word and I get back to the locker room,” Westbrook said.
With the Thunder playing the night before, there wasn’t a lot of time for Durant to connect with anyone from his former team, although he did work out on the court pregame. After departing from the locker room postgame, Durant never got close to the Thunder’s locker room.
Durant and Westbrook certainly have a means of resolving their silence as they are both social media aficionados. A telephone call. Text. Email. Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. All are possible forms of communication.
So why haven’t Durant and Westbrook resolved their divorce?
“It’s because of the outsiders,” Thabeet said. “Mostly, it’s the outsiders. It’s almost like everything Russell does is a shot at Kevin. It’s not even like that. Those guys actually have their lives. I talk to Russell. Russell’s my guy. He’s married. He’s happy. He’s living his life.
“At the end of the day, these outsiders will fade. Somebody is going to win this year, and they are going to forget about this moment. It’s part of sports, I guess.”
Durant gave a svelte and in shape Thabeet, who is working out in San Francisco, a ticket to attend the Thunder game. They became friends while Thabeet was playing with the Thunder from 2012-14, and they still talk regularly now. Thabeet recalled his old Thunder days when Durant and Westbrook were often hanging out off the court.
“As teammates, we were close. We were brotherly,” Thabeet said. “We hung out. It’s wasn’t never like we’re going to hang out without Russell. We didn’t even have to be in OKC to hang out. It would be like if we were back in OKC we’d be at Russell’s house or at KD’s house.
“Team bonding was important to us. So for him to leave was heartbreaking because they were always very close.”
While heartbreaking for Thunder fans and Oklahoma to lose a top three NBA player for nothing, Thabeet says Durant never predetermined a departure and deserved to be selfish with his free agent decision. With the improving Warriors owning a 4-1 record and Durant already engrossing himself in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco off the court, his new life appears to be a fun one and his decision appears to be paying off, too.
“At some point, he had to make a decision for himself,” Thabeet said. “Maybe he felt things didn’t go well for him in OKC. It’s OK to reinvent and find somewhere else where you can feel like you’re home. Hopefully, this will work for him.
“You can look at the league and see how guys get bashed. Great guys, MVP-caliber guys get bashed for not winning. Suddenly, a guy makes a move because he wants to win and the whole nation is against it. I’m happy for him. He’s happy with his move. Wanda, his mom, is happy with this. His family is happy with it. He’s happy, which is the most important thing.”
Durant hugged Thabeet long after the game and said he views him as one of the best teammates and people he has ever known. Other ex-teammates have been instrumental in helping him adapt.
“People like Hasheem and my former teammates are like, ‘Keep being me.’ I know where I’m coming from. I know how hard it is. Hearing it from former teammates is always good,” Durant said.
Maybe at some point, Durant will hear it from another former teammate in Westbrook, too.