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NBA’s Seattle return was special, but will it be Sonics’ afterword or the spark to their revival?

Kevin Durant expressed his hope that a Sonics franchise will return to the NBA. (AP)

The NBA’s return to Seattle was undoubtedly a special moment fitting of the city’s storied pro basketball history.

Now the question is whether the NBA will come through and let that history continue after a new arena at Seattle Center opens.

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The back-to-back NBA champion Golden State Warriors easily took care of the Sacramento Kings for a 122-94 preseason win Friday night in the final scheduled event for Seattle’s KeyArena, but the crowd looked – and sounded – more like the ones that attended Seattle SuperSonics home games. You know, when they existed, which now is over 10 years in the past.

The city of Seattle has not forgotten about its first major league pro sports team – the first one to last more than a season, at least (sorry, Seattle Pilots) (Editor’s note: The SuperSonics preceded the Pilots’ arrival in Seattle by two years). And that’s what Friday night was about.

A who’s who of Seattle sports legends and current stars were in attendance, including Sonics greats Lenny Wilkens, Jack Sikma and “Downtown” Freddie Brown (all from the 1979 NBA championship team), Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and stars Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner, and all-time NBA great Bill Russell. Fittingly, three of the biggest ovations of the night went to people who helped define the KeyArena era in Seattle – Hall of Famer Gary Payton and his old Sonics teammate Detlef Schremph, and the player who led the Seattle Storm to three WNBA championships while they called the building home, future Hall of Famer Sue Bird.

The night wouldn’t have been as special as it was without a returning hero in Golden State’s Kevin Durant, whose rookie year in the NBA was with a lame-duck Sonics team that was headed to Oklahoma City the very next season. Durant may have gone on to win an MVP award with the Thunder and championships with the Warriors, but he never forgot about Seattle, remaining an ardent supporter of an eventual NBA return to the city.

The Seattle fans showed their appreciation to Durant for that, showering him with cheers every time he stepped on the court – even before the game. Durant gave them every reason to cheer, too, with 26 points, a trio of highlight-reel dunks, and an unforgettable show of respect to the city and the legacy of the Sonics during his introduction.

If the game was some sort of litmus test by the NBA to see if there is still a market for men’s pro basketball in Seattle, it needs to look no further than a sellout crowd that chanted “Super-SONICS” throughout the game. The league has given no indication as of yet that it could be, though – expansion isn’t on the table and there are no obvious candidates for relocation, especially with the Milwaukee Bucks moving in to a new arena this year.

That’s the tough pill to swallow after the success that was Friday’s game, which was much more than a random preseason exhibition.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who played in KeyArena when it was new as a member of the Chicago Bulls team that beat the Sonics in the 1996 NBA Finals, said Friday’s game had a “very special atmosphere – very different from anything else I’ve experienced.”

The same goes for Durant, who said he didn’t feel into the flow of the game until the second quarter because of the emotion that came with everything.

And yet, for all of the effort from Warriors president Rick Welts, a former Sonics ballboy, to put the game together, there is no guarantee that it will amount to anything other than one night when the NBA came back and Seattle fans sold out the arena the league deemed wasn’t up to its code a decade prior.

The support for a new Sonics team to come to Seattle is certainly there from the Warriors’ side.

“It just doesn’t seem right that the Sonics are not a part of the NBA,” Kerr said.

“I know it’s been a rough 10 years. The NBA is back in Seattle for tonight, but hopefully it’s back forever soon,” Durant said in an address to the crowd before the game from center court.

After the game, while media waited for Durant’s postgame press conference, chants of “KD, KD, KD” could be heard from fans lining the tunnel that led from the arena to the locker rooms. They just wanted one more glimpse of the last Sonics star Seattle ever knew.

For now, they can only hope they will get the chance to chant for another one.

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