The 18-year-old may help the franchise stay in Seattle.
SEATTLE (AP) — Kevin Durant hadn’t been a member of the SuperSonics two full days before one of the most popular players in team history anointed him Seattle’s basketball savior.
“I don’t want to put pressure on Kevin, but I think you will save the Sonics,” Slick Watts, who played for the Sonics from 1973-78, said Saturday to Durant, the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft.
“I think you will help keep them in Seattle.”
Durant, 18, simply smiled. The crowd gathered in front of Durant at a Seattle park cheered.
Watts joined Seattle Seahawks star Shaun Alexander, Mariners closer J.J. Putz, Washington men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar and UW women’s coach Tia Jackson in introducing Durant to fans at a community event at Green Lake park, north of downtown Seattle.
The Sonics estimated the event attracted about 1,000 people.
Many were wearing freshly produced green shirts with “Durant 35” on the back in honor of the new, teenage face of the rebuilding franchise.
The event included a question-and-answer session with kids seated in front of Durant, who stood on a podium wearing a white polo shirt over black workout pants and sneakers.
Durant told one boy that he began playing basketball at age 9, the same age he told his parents he wanted to play in the NBA.
“Now, it’s your turn,” Durant told the boy.
When another boy asked Durant which team he dreamed of playing for, Durant — a native of Maryland who played one season for the University of Texas — gave a crowd-pleasing response.
“If I could play for any team, it would be the Seattle SuperSonics,” Durant said, prompting more cheers.
The afternoon was supposed to feature Durant teaching kids during a basketball clinic.
But Sonics vice president of marketing Brian Byrnes said that when so many fans and curious passers-by showed up on the brilliantly sunny day to stand behind the seated kids on the main outdoor court, the team decided not to try to clear them away.
Instead, it asked Durant to sign autographs for the throng.
Durant did that for almost a half hour. Towering over each face at 6-feet-9, he signed and smiled and made eye contact with each of those who wanted a moment with the man they hope will spark such renewed interest in the Sonics that the team finds a way to stay in Seattle beyond the 2007-08 season.
Sonics owner Clay Bennett, who was not present Saturday, has set a deadline of Oct. 31 to secure a new arena in the Puget Sound region before he will begin the process of relocating the team.
Bennett and his seven co-investors are from Oklahoma, and he has already told officials from Oklahoma City and Kansas City that he is exploring making one of those cities the Sonics’ home for the 2008-09 season.
The Sonics have more immediate concerns.
Rashard Lewis, the second-leading scorer behind Ray Allen — the All-Star guard Seattle traded to Boston Thursday — became a free agent Sunday, though general manager Sam Presti said that trading Allen makes bringing back Lewis more possible.
And the Sonics still don’t have a coach, though that long search appears to now be an imminent choice between P.J. Carlesimo, the former Warriors and Trail Blazers coach, and Dwane Casey, the former coach at Minnesota and previously a longtime Seattle assistant.
An announcement on that decision is expected Monday or Tuesday.