What Kevin Durant left behind in Oklahoma City

ByROYCE YOUNG via <a href="http://espn.go.com/" title="ESPN" class="espn_sc_byline">ESPN </a>
February 14, 2017, 8:41 AM

&#151; -- IT'S BEEN SEVEN months and six days since Kevin Durant made his decision.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have moved on, or so they say. The city hasn't, at least not entirely, as aftershocks -- T-shirts that read "35-35=0" or the occasional No. 35 jersey with Durant's name changed or crossed off -- still reverberate around town from time to time. As much as there's celebration and appreciation for Russell Westbrook's historic run, a trail of smoke lingers.

All roads, and conversations, find their way back to Durant. ?

His presence was everywhere in Oklahoma City for eight years -- he lorded over the city as its global ambassador. It reached a crescendo in 2013 when Durant put down a physical landmark of sorts, partnering with a restaurant group to open KD's Southern Cuisine in Bricktown, less than a mile from Chesapeake Energy Arena and right next to Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill.

Durant's restaurant wasn't the most popular OKC eatery, but it was a tangible representation of how deeply his roots extended into the city's fabric. It's where Durant and many of his teammates would gather after home games in a private room. It's where Durant held charity and fundraiser events. It's where his family ate a couple of days before Durant heard the Thunder's free-agency pitch last summer.

Inside its doors was not only a celebration of Durant but also of Durant playing for Oklahoma City. Cases full of memorabilia lined the walls: jerseys, shoes, signed balls and framed pictures. Instead of TVs tuned to ESPN, most were programmed to run a loop of constant YouTube highlights of the Thunder superstar.

When Durant left, he withdrew his stake and the restaurant underwent a rebranding. Its Yelp page took a beating.

Durant's friend, Randy Williams, and manager, Charlie Bell, came back and scooped up all the jerseys, shoes and signed pictures. The restaurant reopened seven weeks later as Legacy Grill, a road map of Oklahoma's history and its important figures. Durant's jerseys have been replaced by those of Barry Sanders, Troy Aikman, Blake Griffin, Sam Bradford, Tony Allen and Adrian Peterson.

There are two framed pictures at each booth, honoring the state's finest from Garth Brooks to Mickey Mantle. There's even one of Chris Paul accepting his Rookie of the Year award when he played in Oklahoma City during the then-Hornets' relocation after Hurricane Katrina.

Three Thunder jerseys hang by the bar -- Westbrook, Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams.

There isn't one thing in the entire place for Durant.

THERE WILL BE no tribute video for Durant on Saturday. He'll be recognized just like all other departed Thunder players before him -- Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb or Cole Aldrich. His name will be called in starting introductions along with, "Please welcome back to Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant."

And the fans will most assuredly boo.

"Oh, I'll be booing, I hope just like everyone else is," Thunder fan George Overbey says. "In my Russell Westbrook jersey, too."

Overbey was a student at Oklahoma State in 2011, and when Durant tweeted that he wanted to play some flag football during the NBA lockout, Overbey invited him up to Stillwater for a game. Durant showed up in his van and played some ball, with cell-phone videos going viral everywhere.

It was another example of Durant's connection with the people of Oklahoma, how his down-home demeanor aligned with the state. After Durant left that night -- throwing four touchdowns and picking off three passes, or so he claimed -- he gave a shoutout to Overbey on Twitter. Durant even called Overbey his "new buddy."

"I don't hate the guy, or really even dislike him, but I'm a Thunder fan, and I want to support the players that are here," Overbey said. "That's our responsibility now as fans. He chose to leave, which was his right to do, but that doesn't mean I have to like it."

Some will judge Thunder fans for booing. Some will shame the organization for doing the bare minimum for a player who helped build the franchise, a player general manager Sam Presti dubbed a "founding father" of the Thunder. How could they not appreciate the eight years (nine for the franchise including one in Seattle) Durant gave them?

The general feeling of most fans, as Overbey explained, isn't just that Durant left for another team -- they actually kind of understand that part. They aren't happy with it, but they can at least parse the fact that Durant wanted to play elsewhere.

But it's the who, the what and the why that breeds the animosity. That it was to the Warriors, the 73-win team the Thunder were set to conquer before blowing a 3-1 lead, with Durant shooting 39 percent in the final three games of the series. That the decision was announced with a brief five-paragraph message on The Players' Tribune, with only 192 words spent on the city and franchise that "raised" him. And that after almost eight months, there's still no clear understanding of Durant's reasoning.

It's also about Westbrook. In terms of the level of animosity when Durant returns, the city will take its cues from its point guard. Durant's departure hurt Westbrook personally, but then there was the simple text to inform him of the decision, the sniping through the media from Durant's camp about the duo's fit together and the passive-aggressive comments from Durant that may or may not have been interpreted properly.

The two haven't spoken since Durant left, and probably won't for some time. Betray Westbrook's trust and you're dead to him for a lifetime, whether you're a reporter, a coach, a friend or a teammate.

Westbrook's remarkable, historic season has transformed what was expected to be a year of mourning into one of excitement and passion. He has sopped up the sadness, keeping the words "Kevin Durant" mostly out of the mouths of Thunder fans.

Westbrook pledged his loyalty to OKC when he signed his extension -- not booing Saturday night would betray that trust.

"I want Russ to know how much we love and support him," Overbey says. "We have his back."

The Thunder are taking the high road, saying nothing but positive things about Durant and the time he gave the organization. Staffers aren't shy to recognize Durant for helping establish the culture that the franchise is leaning on to push through his departure and contend for a playoff spot. That starts with Presti, who has pointedly complimented and thanked Durant for his time with the franchise.

"We are very appreciative of Kevin's contributions during the first eight years of the Thunder; as we have said, they're a big reason for the foundation that we stand on today," Presti said.

"He, in partnership with many teammates, invested a great deal in helping to build a culture and identity for a franchise in its infancy stages, one whose accomplishments and identity we should all take great pride in representing."

Still, Durant's presence has been scrubbed off everywhere around Chesapeake Energy Arena and the team's practice facility 15 minutes away. His jerseys were boxed up, with one set of each alternate sent to him, and the rest put in an archive at the team's facility. It's what the team does for every former player. The only visible reminders are the banners he helped hang in the rafters of the arena -- a 2012 Western Conference champion banner, and five Northwest Division titles.

His legacy around Oklahoma City, though, was always about something bigger than basketball.

Durant's impact is sprinkled everywhere -- from his investment in the infrastructure, to his donation of $1 million to the city of Moore after a devastating tornado, to the basketball courts he funded at public schools, to the money he committed to a local organization that supports homeless children (to which he recently donated another $57,000). Oklahoma City hasn't forgotten what Durant meant and all the good he did.

They also haven't forgotten what he said.

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