Baxter Will Always Be a Friend of the Bears and Durant’s In Space
We can talk later about the annoyances Game Two brought with it. My petty, undoubtedly obvious, undeniably childish opinions and observations on the semi-alternate universes that were Games 1 & 2 of the Western Conference Semis are coming. The treating the ball like it has leprosy. The block outs that are more like “Hey, come on in, friends. Let me get you an iced tea. You can stay in my room tonight. Here, let me hug you.” Kendrick Perkins catching the ball about as well as someone would if they had feet for hands and their feet happened to be asleep. The relentlessness of the Grizzlies on the offensive glass. All the turnovers. So. Many. Turnovers. We’ve got a series on our red clay stained hands now.
Bear fight, basically. We’re the Channel 4 News Team, and we’re in a bear fight.
First, though, Durant. Really, always. Always Durant. Silk, despite the Game Two loss, has elevated his game to levels so high he’s bounding around on Saturn. He’s an alien.
* * *
The Birth of Silk & A Room in Agee
I didn’t have a ton of friends in the dorms at the beginning of my freshman year of college. That sentence isn’t there in hopes to incite sympathy from you. It was entirely my fault since I didn’t really do much to get out there and meet people early on. I’m sure a ton of freshman go through the exact same thing every year, so in no way does that make me special or unique. It’s just a necessary fact that needed releasing so you can better understand the 18 year old me, the me this story involves. Mind you, it involves me, but it’s not really about me.
Well, on the fringes it is. Near the edges, where stuff tends to fray. But, really, it’s about watching Kevin Durant play basketball. That, how that experience has changed, and how it has stayed exactly same.
* * *
2007. I was on the basketball team at Oklahoma Baptist University and the majority of the guys I hung with at the time lived off campus in wonderfully seedy houses, the kind you’re supposed to live in during college, or Tostitos and Ramen coated apartments. They weren’t trying to come to an ant filled dorm with a leaky AC unit to hang out and watch a late night game with a freshman who tries a little too hard to be cool and messes with the flow of practice sometimes because he can’t remember the plays. I dig that. I felt the same way in later years.
My room, POS that it was, was on the main hall of Agee Dormitories, way up on the fourth floor in the main hallway. It had brown carpet with such little fluff and give to it that it might as well have just been brown colored concrete. The carpet was so hard that my mom, after seeing this, insisted on us going to the Wal-Mart in town to get me a rug. A soft one. One that my bare feet would feel good on.
The rug Sam Walton – I mean destiny – chose for me was an off white. It fuzzed from the moment it was purchased till the moment I tossed it in the dumpster my last day of sophomore year. If I went too long without vacuuming, the fuzz would accumulate around the floor of my room like really itchy snow.
The room had a desk, a chair, a dresser with four drawers, two tiny closets, a twin sized bunk bed, and my mini fridge I bought at Big Lots on move in day.
My room was directly across the hall from the community bathroom. Can’t italicize and emphasize the word “directly” enough there.
As dude shared college living places tend to do, the hall always smelled. Some combination of Braum’s cheeseburgers and Spring Rain Febreze. The bathroom being so close, that shower on the far right always dripping, had something to do with it, for sure, but the soccer players were up on Fourth Main, too. They left their cleats and socks and shin guards out in the hall and sticky Oklahoma late summer sweat stink wafted and mixed with the awfulness of natural dudeness and stank hung low in the air like a brown Linus cloud and wrapped its funk arms around you, trying to bear hug all the joy away. You got immune to it at a certain point. This is how I live now, you tell yourself. Things will not change.
My nights early on usually consisted of me getting out of practice, eating with the team in the caf, maybe going over to one of their places for a bit to play Madden, then head back to the room to avoid doing homework.
* * *
I wound up making two good friends in the dorms. They lived one door down, across the hall from me. They were both golfers. One of them was from Arkansas. The other was from Liverpool. One of them had a girlfriend. The other wanted all of the girls in all of the world. They were deeper than that, for sure. They had thoughts, personalities, feelings, liked the music of J-Kwon and Daniel Bedingfield, respectively, and were fun, good guys. But the story isn’t about them. Not sure why I told you about them in the first place.
In any case, they were gone one particular night for a reason I can’t remember, so I stayed in my room, creeped around on Facebook, and read transcripts of old SNL sketches. It was on this night that I watched a guy in that awful burnt orange with elastic limbs put on an offensive show the likes of which I couldn’t remember seeing before. It was the versatility. The everything-ness of his game. One that made me spill my fudge sticks a couple times and whisper obscenities. He was scoring from everywhere in every way. He was an assassin. Icy, chilled out, and smooth.
That guy was Kevin Durant.
* * *
This particular night was a Monday night, I think. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen him play. In those days I consumed Big Mondays with all the regularity that I consumed air, so it wasn’t as if he wasn’t on my radar previously, but this was the night that he first made a legitimate impression on me. A lasting one.
It was his freshman year. He was in Stillwater, Eskimo Joe Broing it in Gallagher Iba, trying to take down Oklahoma State.
I grabbed my remote, the one I’d lose out my fourth floor window not a couple weeks later doing a fairly heavy handed Ron Burgundy impression BY MYSELF, turned my television over to ESPN, and kept my eyes glued to the wiry kid from D.C. with rubber bands for arms try to stay afloat in a rocky sea of orange.
On that night I saw Byron Eaton, all 467 pounds of him, save a ball from going out of bounds near half court at the end of the shot clock and heave a prayer up toward the goal. A prayer that wound up being answered. I saw Sean Sutton almost pass out. I saw DJ Augustine matter. I saw JamesOn Curry attempt to inspire a new generation of Oklahomans to wear floppy socks. I laughed at how Tyler Hatch looked. Being an OU fan, I am bound by the contract I signed with my parents on the day I was born to not praise OSU too much, but Mario Boggan was an absolute monster that game. 37 and 20 for him in a performance that probably made Connor Atchley cry, which is always a good thing. That game in Stillwater that night, instant classic that it was, gave you a lot.
But forty game minutes and three overtimes later, even in a loss, even with Boggan doing what he had done, all I could think about was this pencil thin Longhorn doing things on a court that someone his body type shouldn’t have been able to do. The Baby Ice Man Cometh. 37 points. 12 rebounds. Huge shot after huge shot. Silk in it’s earliest stages. A cashmere touch. A dozen dear God in Heaven plays.
A sign of what was going to be.
Texas lost that game. Even That Dude can’t overcome Rick Barnes. Boggan hit a monster, ill advised three through a triple team with 3.2 seconds left in the game to win it and sent the Shorthorns back to Austin to chill with those that keep things weird.
After the game I sat alone in my room and sipped on a Mountain Dew and thought about myself and how me and Durant were the same age. Then I turned the television off and went to Wendy’s to get Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger.
* * *
They are expected now, the late game heroics of Kevin Durant.
That’s a fan held luxury and a player held curse. When he rises up above the world and flicks that wrist and the ball spirals towards its destiny at the bottom of the net, there gets to be a feeling, generally, of expectancy.
Of course he made it. This is what he does. This is his purpose. Now I get to go bananas and cheer and do the big nuts dance.
Basically, when the shot matters and he takes it, it’s surprising if he misses. We’re spoiled in that way, and it’s unfair to him.
* * *
Allergic to Rebounds & Kevin Durant is a Really Nice Apartment
Game Two, though.
Rebounds were meant to be grabbed and the most important object on the floor is the basketball.
We treated the ball with all the care you treat the sunglasses you bought at Quik Trip on your way to float the river because you didn’t want to take your nice ones out in the water. Like it has chicken pox or cooties or something. Then, defensively, we just can’t grab a rebound. They wore us out. Time and time again a shot goes up, comes off, and finds its way into the paws of some wanting Grizzlies player that proceeds to do with their second chance what they couldn’t do with their first: score. You can’t give good teams multiple chances to score. It will bite you over and over until you’re left charred and roasted on Beale Street trying to ask for a quarter to go get a piece of toast from B.B. King’s.
We shore those things up and we’re up 2-0 going back to the Grindhouse. As it is, we’re smack dab in the middle of the previously mentioned bear fight, and we’re going back to this.
The towels will be out and they’ll be in their matching colors, same way we were. Their game ops staff will be playing some Earl Sweatshirt or some Kendrick or Killer Mike or Three Six or whatever Pitchfork would have them do (NSFW on those, lyrics wise).
The games will be slugfests. Complete and utter bar room brawls. Smacking surly bartenders, Gus McCrae style. Playoff basketball. The kind that lends itself to magic from dudes that understand the moment. The kind of games that find their way onto whatever highlight reel they play of yours on SportsCenter whenever you get inducted into the Hall of Fame. The kind Durant lives for.
* * *
Durant has done all he could the first two games of this series. He’s had two games worth of help from Fisher, and one half’s worth of help from Kevin Martin. That’s about it. Other than that, he’s alone. Fighting windmills. Giving us everything, every bit of what he has. It’s something to watch a player you were previously amazed by, only to have him show you there was even more he hadn’t yet unveiled.
It’s like you’re renting a really nice apartment. Three bedrooms. Three baths. Two of them have jacuzzi tubs and all three of them have those showers with multiple shower heads. Two on either wall spraying your sides. A couple on top, one of them with a waterfall setting. There’s an iPod dock in each room that you only use when you’re in the tub. You put on some Merle or Cash or whatever. I don’t know. It’s your iPod.
There’s a huge dining room. The table in it was made personally by Ron Swanson. Super high ceilings. Marble decor in the kitchen. Wood floors. A balcony. Easy access to the roof. Right across the street there’s your favorite restaurants and places to shop. Like, you know, Charlie’s Chicken and a resurrected Just For Feet that sells Jordans at below market value. There’s a reading nook in there but you only take naps in it because, come on, reading? Please. You’ve got chicken chunks to eat.
It’s got a fireplace. This pretty killer mantle that you can put those black and white pictures of you and yours on. The ones you like because you think you look better in black and white as opposed to color. It’s somehow got free internet and free DIRECTV and nobody lives above you. Kristin Chenoweth lives beside you and she comes and tucks you in at night and tells you stories of the good ole days in Stillwell. Then she sings lullabies to you until you nod off. It’s got it all, is what I’m saying.
Kevin Durant has been that apartment for the better part of six years. Top of the dadgum line.
Back to the apartment. After having all this at your disposal for years, you realize there’s a hidden room you had no idea about. One that has an indoor pool and a spa and George Costanza’s actual recliner with the built in fridge he got for The Summer of George and the Pioneer Woman comes there sometimes to get away from it all and makes you cinnamon rolls and then you guys hang out and watch Bill Dance Bloopers all day. The place was even better than you imagined.
That’s what happened when Russ went down. Because he had to, Durant was forced to show us that room he’d been hiding, and it’s a really chill setup.
Beats a dorm room, at least.
Tyler Parker is a Contributor to Daily Thunder and a Contributing Editor for Ballerball.com.