Tramel: Kevin Durant, James Harden & Co. gave Thunder some wonder years. Time to look back fondly.
With 3:54 left in the second quarter, James Harden checked back into the game, replacing Thabo Sefolosha. Awaiting on the floor were Thunder teammates Nenad Krstic, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Jeff Green.
The date: Oct. 28, 2009.
The site: the Ford Center, downtown Oklahoma City.
The event: the Thunder’s second season opener after the SuperSonics moved from Seattle.
The novelty: Durant, Green and Harden shared a court for the first time in an NBA game.
Friday night, in the same building, now named Chesapeake Energy Arena, Durant, Green and Harden ostensibly will share the court again. This time as Brooklyn Nets.
Finally, a silver lining from the pandemic. The ‘Peake will be closed to fans. Loud City won’t be subjected, at least live, to the trauma of reminders.
The world once was young, and the Thunder was awash with possibility.
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Durant, Westbrook, Harden, all soon-to-be-superstars. Plus Green, a good player then and still quite valuable. And Serge Ibaka, green as grass then but obviously special, which still holds, as the current Thunder found out last weekend in back-to-back games against the Clippers.
We all know what happened.
Green traded, so Kendrick Perkins could bring much-needed toughness to the young colts. Harden traded, because the Thunder was worried about paying three stars and Harden was worried that superstardom was not possible with Durant and Westbrook on board. Ibaka traded, to bolster a roster designed around keeping Durant.
Seems so long ago that the quintet was together. The Boys of Spring, taking the mighty Lakers to six games in a 2010 Western Conference playoff series. It’s hard even to remember Green in Thunder blue. Uncle Jeff, he was called, since at age 23 he was two years older than Durant and Westbrook, three years older than Harden and Ibaka.
Those salad days never produced a title. One thing or another kept OKC paradeless. An injury here, a trade there. A Boris Diaw here, a Klay Thompson there.
And now when particularly Durant comes back to town, full of piss and vinegar, he’s met with venom. Harden, too, since seven years a Rocket turned him into a public enemy. Green is largely ignored. Ibaka is mostly cheered. Westbrook is adored, for his perceived loyalty.
Truthfully, it’s not pleasant to be in the arena when Durant returns. Not for Durant. Not for the Thunder organization, which has little sympathy for Durant but prefers class prevail. Not for the booing fans, who know their anger is not good for the soul.
The malice replaces tears. Thunder fans boo to keep from crying.
But maybe it’s time we look back on those halcyon days of youth and reflect not on what we lost, but what we had.
My favorite television show ever was “The Wonder Years.” That, or “Hill Street Blues.” But “The Wonder Years” was a glorious look at growing up in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, my wheelhouse. When I watch “The Wonder Years,” I don’t get sad at no longer being 12, living at 1223 East Boyd Street. I get cheery, at what a time I had.
Same with the Thunder. No reason to lament the lack of a flag. If the Thunder had won an NBA championship, the joy and the memories would last forever. But the joy and the memories of all those winter nights and all those playoff thrills last forever, too.
Those memories can only be soiled by the person who cherishes them.
Only 43 players from the 2009-10 NBA campaign have played this season. Five were Thunders, who made that breakout year so memorable.
I know it seems implausible, but the Thunder’s Young & Restless five played just 77 minutes together in 2009-10 (and were outscored by seven points). The next season, they played 158 minutes together (and were outscored by 19) before Green was traded for Perkins.
They are older now, all beyond 30, though still somewhat restless. Durant, Harden and Westbrook are on their second franchises since leaving OKC. Ibaka is on his third. Green is with his ninth organization since being traded for Perkins.
Nobody stays anywhere very long anymore.
So Friday night, watching from your sofa, don’t let anger boil during Thunder-Nets. Enjoy the game and enjoy the memories of the wonder years.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.