Kevin Durant received his baptism of boos Sunday in the heart of Lakers/Clippers country, the crowd at Staples Center in Los Angeles rudely informing him he is now the enemy, even while wearing the red, white and blue of Team USA.
Durant suddenly is, in any other jersey, a Warrior, which is why on Tuesday night he will put on the very same national colors and be cheered like never before.
He’ll be at Oracle Arena, in Oakland, his home for the next NBA season and, if all goes as Durant and the Warriors wish, many years to come.
Along with Warriors teammates Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, Durant will lead Team USA onto the floor for a second consecutive USA Basketball Showcase game against China, which the national team routed 106-57 on Sunday at Staples.
Durant, by the way, answered those boos by leading all scorers with 19 points, 14 of which came in the first half.
That game, like the one Tuesday night, is of no consequence, much more a scrimmage than competition for the national team. The games that count come next month, in Rio de Janeiro, where the chase for Olympic medals gets under way.
What does matter, at least for the folks in the Bay Area, is that they will get their first look at Durant since his July 4 decision to join the local NBA squad. That single epic move has begat 21 days (and counting) of chatter, pro and con, love and hate, and debate hot enough to light a stick of dynamite.
Here, in his region, it’s practically unanimous euphoria. The thought of Durant joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Green and Thompson has quickened the pulses and stirred the senses of locals beyond anything since Bill Walsh was standing on sidelines watching Joe Montana dissect defenses.
The Warriors are anticipating championships, and so are their fans.
Durant is, after all, no less than the most heralded arrival in Bay Area sports history. This is bigger than Barry Bonds, who in 1993 came to a Giants team that was starting over in nearly every fashion. Bigger than the arrival of Chris Webber later in ‘93, the signing of Deion Sanders by the 49ers in ’94, the return of the Raiders to Oakland in ‘95 or the unveiling of Pacific Bell Park (now AT&T) in 2000.
This is flame atop flame, a transcendent talent joining a team that already was the trendiest in the NBA – and also has about 30,000 folks who have paid for the right to someday buy season tickets.
Someday? Durant’s arrival surely pushes that purchase date a few years further into the future.
But his unofficial welcome to the Bay comes when his name is announced Tuesday, whether he starts or comes off the bench. Durant doesn’t have to lead the team in scoring or anything else to be the most popular man in the building, with all due respect to Klay and Draymond.
Not until the preseason games begin in early October will Durant put on a Warriors jersey in earnest. Not until late October, when the regular season starts, will he make his official debut.
For now, those fortunate enough to hold a ticket for Tuesday night are poised to clear their throats and say hello. A very loud hello, to be sure.
Consider it a sneak preview, an advance look at the heat and light to come.