When I look at the situation in Oklahoma City, which has been turned emotionally upside down by a basketball star’s decision to go elsewhere, I am glad — once again — that we don’t have an NBA team in Kansas City.
In the NBA, one player on one team — such as LeBron James (Cleveland), Stephen Curry (Golden State) or Kevin Durant (Ok City, until yesterday) — can have a disproportionate effect on a city’s overall sense of well-being.
One of the WHB radio talk-show hosts offered a hypothetical (and retrospective) Kansas City comparison this morning: Suppose, he said, that after the New York Yankees had beaten the Royals in three consecutive American League Championship Series — 1976, 1977 and 1978 — George Brett had announced he was leaving the Royals and signing with the Yankees.
Can you imagine how we would have felt collectively? The sense of betrayal? How much worse Kansas City’s self-esteem — not very high back then to start with — would have been? Why, that could have been a tipping point for hundreds or even thousands of people to move out of Kansas city, had they been mulling that possibility to start with.
We would have been emotionally devastated. And that’s how the people of Oklahoma City have felt since Durant’s announcement.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett (a former sportswriter, by the way) said: “We’re stunned..Kevin was our Ernie Banks and Michael Jordan…We’ve been spurned by someone we cared deeply about.”
A good part of Oklahoma City’s identity was wrapped up in Kevin Durant and still is wrapped up in the Oklahoma City Thunder — a team that moved from Seattle in 2008. Durant was there from the beginning. He had been selected No. 2 in the 2007 draft, and he went on to become Rookie of the Year. He was NBA’s MVP in 2014. He was a seven-time All-Star selection. He led the Thunder to the NBA Finals in 2012.
But he wasn’t just a sports hero. In 2013, he donated $1 million to the American Red Cross after the devastating tornado in Moore, OK. He is a partner in KD’s restaurant in Bricktown (Ok City’s version of the Power & Light District). Plus, he has endorsement deals with Ok City-based Sonic Drive-In and Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt.
To show you how fast feelings can change, after Durant made his announcement, Yelp was inundated with fake reviews of KD’s, including one that said:
“When I first ate his food, it tasted amazing, food made with respect, honesty and trust. Now it just tastes like the food of a traitor.”
The Oklahoman, Ok City’s daily newspaper, said a clerk at a Chesapeake Energy Arena retail store was busy marking down racks of Kevin Durant jerseys.
…To put things in larger perspective, however, Ok City would not be what it is today were it not for the Thunder. The Thunder is the city’s only “major league” franchise, and, as Cornett said, “He put us on the map.” Of course, Oklahoma’s vast crude oil and natural gas reserves were also a significant factor in the Oklahoma City area adding 60,000 residents (to 1.31 million) between 2010 and 2014.
Now, let’s swing this back to Kansas City. We’ve got three major-league franchises — the Royals, the Kansas City Chiefs and Sporting Kansas City. (When golfer Tom Watson was in his prime, former Kansas City Kings’ basketball coach Cotton Fitzsimmons called him KC’s “third franchise,” behind the Royals and Chiefs.)
There isn’t a single player on either the Royals or Chiefs whose departure would generate 6.0 on the Richter scale. With baseball, football and even soccer teams, the talent is more dispersed and one person, generally, doesn’t make or break a team.
Go back to the end of the 2015 baseball season, when Kansas City hung on tenterhooks over the prospect of star Royals’ outfielder Alex Gordon signing with another team. I remember Soren Petro talking about that likely prospect on his WHB radio show and warning fans, “It’s going to be heart-breaking.”
I was bracing myself, like all other Royals’ fans. But, wouldn’t you know it, a semi-miracle took place; he came back, and it looks like he’ll finish his playing career in Kansas City.
If he’d left, yes, it would have been heart-breaking. But it wouldn’t have been soul-crushing. It wouldn’t have plunged the city into mourning. It wouldn’t have instantly revived the inferiority complex we hauled around until Emanuel Cleaver became mayor in 1991 and began singing, sometimes shouting, Kansas City’s praises. (To this day, I firmly believe that was the turning point after a dozen depressing years with the self-unsure Mayor Richard Berkley at the helm.)
So, my heart goes out to the good people of Ok City, just 350 miles southwest of us. It’s a great city and will continue to prosper without Kevin Durant. But, as an editorial in The Oklahoman said today, “It will take time for the pain to subside, no doubt.”
Fortunately, Kansas City’s sporting eggs are not loaded into a single basket. We are much better positioned to take a hit — say, for example, Eric Hosmer leaving after the 2017 season. We have reached a point where the loss of any single sports star would not devastate us.
That being said, it would be quite an upset if George and Leslie Brett put their Mission Hills house on the market and said they were moving to Southern California, where George is from…Listen to me, Leslie. If George ever suggests anything like that, just smack him.