Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant is ready for his Chase Center debut — Andscape
PHOENIX – On Jan. 17, 2017, Kevin Durant put on a white hard hat and used a shovel to dig dirt during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Golden State Warriors’ new arena. After the two-time NBA Finals MVP departed in 2019, the Warriors won an NBA title in that venue now known as the Chase Center in 2022.
On Tuesday night, the Phoenix Suns star forward will play his first game in front of Warriors fans since his departure in both franchise’s 2023-24 NBA season opener. And while Durant has no idea what to expect from Warriors fans from his return, he knows his two NBA championships and two NBA Finals MVP awards made a lasting mark on a franchise expected to retire his No. 35 jersey in Chase Center one day.
“I did have the dirt, have a shovel and some hardware to help build what went on in there now,” Durant told Andscape on Oct. 15 after practice. “Now, I might not have seen it through and played in there as a Warrior. But I helped put some dirt down. So, that’s how I look at it. And we all got blood, sweat, tears in that arena, guys that won championships on that team. So, I tend to think of it the good times I had there.”
After some bad times when Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder were eliminated from the 2016 NBA playoffs by the Warriors, he delivered shocking news when he departed from the Thunder after nine seasons to sign with the Warriors in 2016 as a free agent. Led by Durant on a talented roster that included guard Stephen Curry, forward Draymond Green and guard Klay Thompson, the Warriors won back-to-back NBA titles in 2017 and 2018. After an injury-riddled season, Durant tore his Achilles tendon during the 2019 NBA Finals, the Warriors failed to secure a three-peat by losing in six games to the Toronto Raptors.
Durant said he’s “always appreciated that time” with Golden State.
“Winning the championship is hard,” Durant said. “Winning back-to-back is even harder. I didn’t need time away to be like, ‘Man, now I can just really reflect …’ I’ve always been that person where I know how special that time was and still is and will be forever.
“It is hard for me to compare anything to that era. There is nothing for me to compare that to, whether we win or not. It’s different situations. All of that has helped me to step into this situation knowing what to maybe to expect or know what is coming as a veteran.”
Durant’s tenure with the Warriors ended in 2019 when he chose to depart to the Brooklyn Nets. In three seasons with the Warriors, he averaged 25.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists. The 13-time NBA All-Star ranks second in scoring average per game in Warriors history behind Wilt Chamberlain (41.5). Durant has not been back to the Finals since leaving Golden State.
So, does Durant ever wonder, “what if” he had stayed with the Warriors?
“No. I wouldn’t say what if,” Durant said. “I tend to reflect a lot, though, all the time. It was some good times not just on the court, but just personally. I was going through a lot, understanding more and moved to a different region of the country. There’s a lot of factors that went into that time and that’s the reason why I don’t want to just loosely compare anything to it.
“It was a special time in our lives. Guys were having kids. There was a lot of s— going on around that time that we still feel today. So that was a special time. Hopefully we can create some special times here” in Phoenix.
While Durant’s tenure in Oakland, California, with the Warriors was short-lived, Warriors co-executive chairman and CEO Joe Lacob showed his appreciation by saying in a statement that Durant’s No. 35 jersey will never be worn again. Such words led to expectation that Durant will have his jersey retired by Golden State one day.
“As long as I am co-chairman of this team, no other player will ever wear No. 35 for the Warriors again,” Lacob said in a statement.
On Lacob and Golden State potentially retiring his jersey, Durant said: “He should. Look at the résumé. That would warrant me to get a jersey retirement, right? Do I want to be honored by a franchise I put work in for? Of course, I would love that. I had some great moments there. I built some solid relationships there. Yeah, man. Hell yeah, that would be sweet. I love that organization, man. I love my time there, seriously. Me leaving, people shouldn’t doubt that, because I left there.
“I’ve played there without the fans and I played against them in an arena where they were [the visiting team]. But definitely, Bay Area fans are one of a kind. So, I know they’re going to show love, but I’m not expecting nothing extra, to be honest.”
Durant’s only appearance in the Chase Center took place with the Nets on Feb. 13, 2021. Fans, however, were not allowed to attend due to the coronavirus pandemic. An ankle injury kept the NBA Top 75th Anniversary Team selection from playing with the Suns in San Francisco on March 13 last season.
Durant is excited to play in front of the Warriors fans for the first time since his departure.
“I don’t expect anything from people no more,” Durant said. “I don’t expect people to cheer me on or boo me or none of that. It’s just it is what it is. Whatever happens, happens. I’m [going to] go out there and play my game and I also take a second to reflect on me being a player there just like I did in OKC and how I will do in Brooklyn. Places I have played at mean a lot to me. I will take some time.”
The Suns have never won an NBA championship team despite three Finals appearances since joining the NBA in 1968. Phoenix has now has a championship-caliber team with three superstars in Durant, guards Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, along with a deep bench under new coach Frank Vogel. Durant knows what it’s like to be on a title team, having played in the NBA Finals four times, including once with the Thunder. While the 35-year-old loves the potential of the Suns and added that his veteran experience can help, he isn’t ready to predict that Phoenix will be on the same championship level as his Golden State teams.
“I got to see once the season starts. I can’t compare nothing to that,” Durant said. “We accomplished the highest of the highest. You can’t just compare just any team just because I’m on it. There are so many moving parts to say that. So, I don’t want to disrespect that time or disrespect that organization.
“But I feel like we got a solid chance to make some noise and we got a solid chance to keep building what we are doing every day, building our identity. That’s the most important thing for me, is who do we want to be as a team.”