Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant remembers his final home game as a Seattle SuperSonic, a win, just like it was yesterday.
"The fans came and supported us two hours before the game started," the star forward said following last night's 120-112 victory over the Sacramento Kings. "And they wanted everybody to know that they wanted their team there."
Leading by one with just about 30 seconds to go, a stop against the Dallas Mavericks would've likely sealed the victory for his Sonics. But a lapse in defensive judgment by ex-teammate Earl Watson left Seattle-native and Mavericks guard Jason Terry wide open for three.
The ball bounced left off the cylinder, then off the battling hands of Dirk Nowitzki and Johan Petro and finally into the possession of Jeff Green. Durant streaked down the court after receiving the outlet pass from his former teammate, capping the play with a body-contorting, right-handed lay-up to put the Sonics up three, 98-95.
What followed was a moment that seemed to culminate four decades worth of Sonics history in Seattle.
"Save our Sonics," the Key Arena faithful chanted.
And the fans roared without interruption for nearly two straight minutes during the ensuing Dallas timeout. One lone Sonic incited the some 16,000 people in attendance to raise their voices.
"I was getting riled up for the game basically," said Durant, the aforementioned player who roused the crowd. "Because we wanted to win as much as we could that year. We were having a tough season. We wanted to win that game against a good Dallas team.
"But it was cool man to see that," he added, speaking of Sonics fans' passionate in-game plea to keep the team.
Durant's rookie year, his single season in Seattle, was merely a stepping stone to his present-day success. Unfortunately for disenfranchised Sonics fans, they've had to painfully watch the now-Thunder forward tap into his potential in Oklahoma City.
"It was kind of tough on the players to go through the whole move and everything," Durant said of packing his bags after only one year in Seattle. "But everything happens for a reason I think."
Though it's been three seasons since his last game in the Emerald City, the reigning scoring champ still misses his first NBA home. Especially considering how dedicated he felt Seattle fans were while there.
"It was tough," said Durant of leaving the Sonics fanbase. "But we didn't know for a fact that we were leaving. It was up in the air with us."
Teammate Nick Collison agrees.
"That's probably the hardest part about it," Collison said. "I think as a player you're encouraged to reach out to the fanbase and accept them as part of the team. And when something like (relocation) happens, it's difficult."
Unlike his 22-year old teammate, Collison was firmly entrenched into Seattle culture at the time of the move. The Thunder big man played four seasons in the NBA before the Sonics packed their bags for Oklahoma City. And in fact, he still calls Seattle home.
"You know I live in Queen Anne, the neighborhood where (Key Arena) is," Collison said. "There's (been) a lot of change and a lot of those businesses were affected. I had a lot of friends that were longtime Sonics fans their entire lives. It does have an impact.
"But for me personally," continued Collison, speaking of Seattle's reality without the Sonics. "I'm there in my offseason, so I don't feel it as much because it's not basketball season."
As the 2010-11 regular season comes to a close, a similar fate seems destined for Sacramento. It's widely expected that the Maloofs will make their pitch to move the Kings to Southern California during this week's NBA Board of Governors meeting.
However, the franchise's grim outlook in the region has not stopped fans from showing support. The Kings have drawn about a thousand more patrons on average over their last 11 games (14,593) in comparison to their first 29 (13,796). Attendance seems to have risen due in large part following League confirmation that Kings ownership had been in serious negotiations to relocate to Anaheim.
"When you compare, it was very similar," said Durant of the atmosphere in Seattle's final days as an NBA city in contrast to what he saw Monday night in Sacramento. "They mirror each other. The last few games (in Seattle) - they were loud."
The stirring fan support is not the only comparable characteristic between this 2010-11 Kings roster and the 2007-08 Sonics. Seattle, much like the Kings this year, struggled mightily, winning only 20 games in their final season in the Pacific Northwest.
The Kings won't finish with a better record than last year, at best compiling the same 25-57 mark they did a season ago. But they've shown flashes of potential the last three weeks, winning seven of their last 12 games. And there lies a painful reality for Sacramento fans. With some of the Western Conference's elite (the Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers just to be specific) soon reaching their mortality because of aging rosters, Kings Playoff contention isn't that farfetched of a notion.
"They have a nice group of young players," Collison said of the Kings, who possess Tyreke Evans, the NBA's reigning Rookie of the Year and DeMarcus Cousins, one of the League's most skilled young bigs. "I think they're in a good cap situation so they've got a bright future. It is kind of similar to what we had."
With the Kings final home game set for Wednesday versus the rival Lakers, the atmosphere in the arena formerly known as Arco is expected to be ruckus.
"I wish I could be here to watch that," Durant said. "I'm sure I'll see it on TV. But to be here, it's going to be unbelievable.
"It's going to be just like back in the days when they had (Chris Webber) and (Jason Williams), those guys," he added. "It's going to be even better than that I think."
Perhaps a fitting, yet simultaneously sorry end to pro hoops in Sacramento.