It is doubtful that 18,000 fans would be considered a representative sample of a city with 1.3 million residents. But many of those in attendance for the long-awaited Durant-Westbrook showdown at Chesapeake Energy Arena certainly didn’t do the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce any favors.
The arena was not filled with fans or fanatics, per se, because it is clear these people were not motivated primarily by enthusiasm for their team. Of course, it is expected that fans, while cheering for their team, will boo the opponent. But there is booing, and then there is the disgraceful behavior that was on display Saturday night.
The majority of Thunder fans seemed to be on a petty, small-minded mission to heckle, if not destroy, Kevin Durant. Long after the cupcake crumbs had turned stale, they kept the over-worn joke going, prompting Warriors’ sideline reporter Rosalyn Gold-Onwude to call out the clear difference in decorum. Durant was there to take care of business — and he did, mightily — and Thunder fans were there to heckle, taunt, mock, etc.
But even if the OKC fans had left it at hardcore heckling, perhaps their behavior could be chalked up to extreme fandom. But things tipped out of that category and into a potential danger zone when apparently well-known Thunder fan, “Big Rich,” got into it with Durant — Stephen Curry seated on a table between them, perhaps as a show of muscle — and Coach Steve Kerr even exchanged words with this out-of-control fan.
Law enforcement officers were on hand to tell the guy to pipe down. But why was he not tossed from the arena? His behavior easily could have tipped the situation into violence.
Earlier in the week, a verbal altercation involving former NBA player Charles Oakley tipped into a physical one, started by one shove. Whatever went on there was confined to the stands, thankfully. But this points to why the situation with “Big Rich” was potentially disastrous: it occurred in very close proximity to the players.
In a post-game interview, Draymond Green expressed his gratitude for the law enforcement officers who were there to intervene, as well as for the team’s security officials who were understandably on high alert. But “Big Rich” should have been tossed from the arena, especially considering that he has seemingly led Oklahoma City in trolling Durant since the day he announced he was taking his talents to Oakland.
Here, “Big Rich” is seen in a video — on Kevin Durant’s property — defacing a for-sale sign and “returning” his jersey:
People in OKC are NOT happy with KD. Here's Big Rich, who runs the Pink Parrot, one of the best bars out there. pic.twitter.com/62xIVxmf99— Landry Locker (@LandryLocker) July 4, 2016
Surely, even Oklahoma has laws against trespassing and vandalism?
But even an upset fan breaking the law on Durant’s property, stewing for months about his departure from OKC, and then turning up at the arena on game day to cause problems was not the worst of it. The Thunder fans who decided racially-tinged taunts and slights were a good idea plummeted the already disgusting scene to a new low.
In a postgame interview, Green stated:
“That guy [wearing a ‘KowarD’ shirt with a cupcake on the back] was disrespectful to us the entire night ... Cheer. Heckle. Heckle all you want. But don’t be disrespectful. Calling guys p-words and all this stuff: ‘Get over there, little boy.’ He was disrespectful the entire night … This ain’t the ancient times. Slave days are over.”
So, it is no wonder that Andre Iguodala and Green took exception to being given orders by a security worker:
Iguodala and Green, like the rest of the team, showed up to the arena to play the game. They expected a hostile environment filled with heckling and jeers. What they did not expect, and did not deserve, was the racial hostility projected onto them by some fans. They were there to do a job; this fan crossed a line; and the fan is the one who should have been dealt with by security, not the players.
Accepting racial abuse is not in anyone’s job description.
After the game, Durant’s mother, Wanda, commented on the “vicious” things that were said about her son:
“We poured our heart into this place. Not just him. Our family. This is basketball. This is not whether or not you’re going to make it into heaven.
They called him a snake, a sellout, a b----,” she said. “It's just a sad day. I understand that they loved him. I do understand it. But the name-calling. The people with the cupcakes on their backs. ... It didn’t have to be like this.”
So, the message (as pathetic as it may be) is clear: Durant was loved and adored, so long as he was giving this fan base what they wanted. As soon as he made a decision that did not align with their wishes, they turned on him in the worst way possible. No longer meeting their needs — all decency went out the window and they exposed their true colors.
“Every time that I’ve been back [in Oklahoma City], people seem like they are afraid to say something nice to me,” Wanda Durant continued. “People will whisper, ‘There’s his mom. Ooooooh!’”
Yet, they still say he betrayed them? Talk about mob mentality.
For the record, Durant is still bankrolling charities in Oklahoma — you know, helping people — especially at the Positive Tomorrows school for homeless youth. Yet, because he took a job elsewhere, he suddenly is being racially abused and disrespected — called “boy” — by those who once claimed to love him.
The new meaning of “garbage time”
And, just when it seemed the sordid debacle was over, ESPN postgame coverage included a report from outside Chesapeake Energy Arena by a local broadcaster. The game was over; the Thunder had been crushed; and Durant had finished with a triumphant 34 points and 9 rebounds in 33 minutes of playing time. Yet, there they were — the fans — still wearing out an already threadbare cupcake joke, holding signs and heckling.
But it was this sign that took, um — the proverbial cupcake:
So, the person holding this sign appears to be a white female, who has turned Durant’s last name into the following acronym:
- Ring Chaser
- Nappy Hair
First, let’s get the spelling issue out of the way: “Abandoner” is not a word in the English language.
But, more important about this sign, is the racist comment about Durant’s hair. NFL columnist Mike Freeman tweeted an appropriate response to this woman’s utterly deplorable behavior:
And ... it is hard to overlook the obvious, which is that this Thunder fan probably had another word in mind that starts with the letter “N.” But the phrase that ended up on the sign is equally vile.
Yes, folks, this is the gutter, and it was the racism of some Thunder fans boiling over that dragged everyone through the sewage.
In the shitty muck, it is hard not to feel some sympathy for Russell Westbrook. Sure, he’s done his fair share of trolling his former teammate since he left town. But he remains an African American man, born and raised in Southern California, playing in a small city — for a fan base that was quick to show its ugliest side. It is doubtful that he didn’t enjoy the heckling and appreciate the way the Thunder faithful tried to cheer on his team. But Westbrook is intelligent enough to know that if the fans could snap on Durant the way they did, there is nothing stopping them from turning on him in similar ways the second he does something they don’t like.
For Durant, this experience must have served as confirmation that he made the right choice to leave Oklahoma City. Asked postgame about being called a cupcake, Durant said, “I’ve been called worse in my life. I was counted out before I was even born. Ain’t nothing new.”
Those sobering comments hold true for Westbrook, too, and what he saw happen to Durant on Saturday night perhaps serves as a painful reminder.