Oklahoma City Thunder NBA basketball player Kevin Durant walks past tornado-damaged homes in a neighborhood in Moore, Okla., May 22. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
by John Krawczynski
AP Basketball Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Oklahoma City isn’t just a place where Thunder star Kevin Durant lives these days. It’s home.
So as he watched the horrifying images Monday as a tornado ripped through suburban Moore, the emotions came bubbling to the surface and so did the need to help. Durant pledged $1 million for tornado relief through his foundation on Tuesday, eager to help a devastated area begin to rebuild.
“As the day went on and I saw the footage and the casualties and the houses being blown away, it was tough to see,” said Durant, who was in Minneapolis to watch longtime friend Monica Wright play a preseason game for the Minnesota Lynx. “I call Oklahoma City my home. I go through Moore all the time. It’s unfortunate. We’re going to come together as a city like we always do and we’re going to bounce back.”
Durant has been in Oklahoma City for five years now, ever since the Seattle SuperSonics moved there in 2008. He’s become a fixture in the community, in addition to establishing himself as one of the very best players in the NBA. He said he was hoping to return home Wednesday to try and lift the spirits of an area reeling from the deaths of some two dozen people, including children.
“Just to get to the hospital, see some kids,” Durant said. “Something. Just something to give some hope. Playing for the Thunder, we mean so much to the state. So many people support us and I just want to go back and support those people.”
The American Red Cross said the gift from Durant’s foundation is meant to match other donations and be an incentive for more people to give. The Thunder also announced a $1 million donation, as did the NBA and players’ union.
“Our hearts go out to all those affected by the devastation that has occurred within our community this week,” Thunder chairman Clay Bennett said in a statement issued by the team. “We are focusing Thunder resources to help where we can in the relief efforts and to support the organizations that are on the ground assisting those affected by this week’s storms. Even with so much loss, the strength and resiliency of this community have once again been on display, and we will continue to work together as our community and state recover from this disaster.”
When Durant initially heard reports of a tornado near Oklahoma City, he didn’t pay them much mind. A veteran of the area now, he knows twisters can be a regular occurrence this time of year. It quickly became apparent that this one was different, and Durant could barely watch it all unfold.
“It hit so close to home,” he said. “It was tough to see.”
And it made the Thunder’s early exit from the playoffs sting that much more. With Russell Westbrook out because of a knee injury, the Thunder were beaten by the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals, a disappointing finish for a team that advanced to the NBA Finals a year ago.
“I wish I could’ve done a better job for my team to stay in the playoffs because of course basketball and sporting events bring everyone together,” Durant said. “It takes your mind off it for a few hours.”
The Thunder boast one of the most loyal and passionate fan bases in the league. Durant averaged 30.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists in the playoffs, but the rest of his teammates struggled to step up and fill Westbrook’s void.
“There’s some part of me wishing I could’ve played better for my team to stay in the playoffs,” Durant said. “Hopefully they get back on their feet. It’s so tough. Praying for the families. I’m feeling for them.”
AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke in San Antonio contributed to this report.