I know what you're thinking, and you're right. A sentence like that, coming from a smartass like me, is usually going to be an insult. Watch this: Roger Goodell and Ben Roethlisberger deserve each other. Michael Vick and oblivion deserve each other. Tiger Woods and a missed cut deserve each other.
|Kevin Durant's exciting style is a perfect match in Oklahoma City. (Getty Images)|
Whether Durant plays out his career in Oklahoma City is a topic for another day. He could sign a max-contract extension this summer, which would tie him to the Thunder for another five years, but at some point he will be on the market as an unrestricted free agent, much like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be on the market this summer. So this is not a plea to Durant to stay in Oklahoma City. It's merely an acknowledgement that he is perfect for the Thunder, and they are perfect for him.
You probably know about Durant, and I don't mean simply his stardom. Everybody knows that. Dude led the NBA this season with 30.1 points per game, becoming the youngest player -- at age 21 -- to lead the league in scoring. You definitely know how good he is. But I'm guessing you also know how humble he is. Lots of players try to be humble and fail, guys like LeBron (and I love him) and Kobe (and I don't).
Durant doesn't try to be humble. He just is. He had a rotten series offensively against the Lakers, abhorrent really, but he didn't let it affect his effort on defense. Well, yes he did. Durant was helping so little on offense that he felt bad -- so he asked coach Scotty Brooks if he could guard Bryant. His offense affected his defense in the best way possible. The leading scorer in the NBA begs to cover Kobe Bryant? That's special. But Durant is special. He has no idea how good he is, urging people like me not to write his name in the same sentence with players like Kobe or LeBron. "Those guys are way above me," Durant says. "Don't compare me to them. That's unfair to them."
That's charming. And so are the fans who cheer for Durant.
Most NBA arenas are the same. Same flames shooting out of a flame-shooter during introductions. Same jackass guy on a microphone yelling at the crowd to make some NOIIIIIIIIIIIISE. Same sexpot girl flouncing around the crowd with another microphone, her impact measured in cup size.
The Ford Center isn't that way. Maybe that's why the Ford Center crowd behaves like grown-ups. They cheer and they boo, but more than that, they appreciate the game. It is, as Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Friday night before Game 6 of that series, "like a college crowd.
"These people stand and cheer," Jackson said. "They're very vociferous. It doesn't matter if it's the New Orleans Hornets or the Oklahoma team. They're still cheering."
College crowds are better than NBA crowds, so much so that it's not an argument worth having. I'm not trying to get a rise out of NBA fans. That's not an opinion. That's a fact. College basketball atmosphere is sincere intensity like an NFL game. NBA atmosphere is pre-programmed noise like Arena Football.
Game 6 ended in the most shocking way possible, with the Lakers stealing victory from defeat when Pau Gasol tapped in the game-winning shot with less than one second to play. That ended the game and the series ... and the Thunder's season. And do you know what the Thunder crowd did next? It stood and cheered, and this is where I'm getting goosebumps as I remember it. The season was over, the Thunder was crushed -- Kevin Durant, earnest like a college player, collapsed at midcourt at the final buzzer -- and the damn crowd was giving them an ovation out of appreciation for a sensational season.
When it happened, I started looking around for the reason. Is there a fight? Why are they cheering? NBA crowds don't cheer at this time, or with this much passion. This wasn't half-hearted, over-the-shoulder applause by fans who were headed for the exits. This was 16,000 people standing and staring at the court and loving a losing team. This lasted almost five minutes. A half hour after the game, Brooks said the crowd's response had torn up his team, in a good way.
"They're pretty emotional in there," Brooks said of his players in the OKC locker room. "Because of the crowd."
Make no mistake, Oklahoma City deserves this basketball team. Four years ago I wrongly predicted this day would never come, that the NBA wouldn't let the Sonics leave Seattle, but here we are. The Sonics are the Thunder, and Oklahoma City deserves to have them. This isn't a comparison between OKC and Seattle. I'm not saying Oklahoma City deserves this team more than Seattle did.
Leave Seattle out of the equation and understand this: Oklahoma City deserves the Thunder. This is a major league city that has been relegated to the ranks of the minors by American sports leagues that measure their worth by the size of their, um, market. And Oklahoma City is only the 45th-biggest TV market in the country. But players around the NBA have come to appreciate the Ford Center as one of the toughest buildings to play because of the sheer volume the crowd generates. I've not been to every arena in the NBA, but I get around, and the only basketball building louder than the Ford Center is Duke's crammed Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Point being, Durant is the ideal young basketball star. Oklahoma City is the ideal young basketball fan base. With Russell Westbrook a superstar at this moment and Jeff Green an All-Star down the road, Durant has the supporting cast to win whatever he wants to win. That talent, and that crowd support, should attract better accompanying pieces than the Thunder have right now.
It's the perfect match, Durant and Oklahoma City. And you know that part earlier in the story where I said "this is not a plea to Durant to stay in Oklahoma City"? That was a lie. This is a plea. Stay in Oklahoma City, Durant. They deserve you -- and you deserve them.