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Kevin Durant is enjoying ‘big city’ life in San Francisco

The Warriors’ free agent-to-be likes to learn about the cities he plays in

The Golden State Warriors are playing their 47th and final season at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. Next season, they will move 8 miles across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco, transitioning from one of the most intimidating places for opponents to play to a posh venue off the ocean in the Mission Bay neighborhood.

Kevin Durant’s free-agent decision looms large for Golden State. He has made it clear that he doesn’t know what he’ll do next summer. But if the two-time Finals MVP decides to stay with the Warriors, his commute would actually become easier. Durant’s condo in San Francisco is not a far drive from where the new arena is being built.

In fact, KD is the only player on the current roster living in San Francisco.

“I wanted to be in the big city and mix it up a little bit,” Durant told The Undefeated. “It’s close to the [Bay] Bridge and the practice facility and arena [in Oakland]. I wanted to try it out. I’ve never lived in a big city before by myself. I wanted to learn more about the flow of the city.”

Durant moved to San Francisco a year ago, and no matter where he has played throughout his career, he said, he has always taken interest in learning about the city’s history. The foodie has dined regularly at the modern Greek restaurant Kokkari Estiatorio in the business district and a famed Italian eatery called North Beach Restaurant that has been popular with NBA players and coaches for years. He is a member of one of San Francisco’s most exclusive private clubs. And he lives in a high-rise with a view of the Bay Bridge and Pacific Ocean.

“I just like the vibe,” Durant said. “It’s chill. Relaxing. There is not too much going on, but there is still a lot going on. People are pretty cool, open and diverse.

“San Francisco is one of those cities that is always going to be booming. There is always going to be growth in the city. I guess you can call me a ‘millennial’ living there now. It puts a different perspective on life.”

One thing Durant said he first questioned about San Francisco was whether it had an African-American presence.

Durant lived in Oakland Hills after signing with the Warriors in the summer of 2016. While gentrification has made itself known in Oakland, the city still has a population that is nearly 30 percent black, has numerous black businesses and has a long list of famous African-American musicians, athletes and other celebrities (including Black Panther director and writer Ryan Coogler) hailing from there. It is also the home of the Black Panthers.

In 1970, 1 in 7 San Francisco residents was African-American, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Now, San Francisco is estimated to have a population that is 40.7 percent white, 34 percent Asian and 15.2 percent Hispanic, according to Data USA.

The black population, however, is just 4.7 percent and expected to drop.

There are only two notable black neighborhoods in San Francisco, in the Fillmore District and the Bayview District. The Fillmore District became predominantly black after Jewish families moved out and Japanese-American families suffered internment and were relocated in the middle part of the 20th century, according to Invest SF. In 2014, the Fillmore District had a population of 25,525 people that was 55 percent white and 17 percent black.

Long before Durant was born, the Fillmore District was known as the “Harlem of the West.” Such jazz legends as John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker performed at Jimbo’s Bop City and other venues in the Fillmore District in the 1940s and 1950s. The jazz, rhythm and blues, and hip-hop likes of Branford Marsalis, Erykah Badu, Stanley Clarke, Talib Kweli, Esperanza Spalding, Rakim, Joshua Redman, De La Soul and Roy Hargrove performed at Yoshi’s on Fillmore Street in the neighborhood before it closed in 2014. Famed author Maya Angelou once lived in the Fillmore District.

Richard Bougere, who made a name for himself by rapping about the Fillmore District and San Francisco while using the name “Big Rich” and “Fillmore Rich,” leads a socially active program with his wife, Danielle Banks, called Project Level. It focuses on mentoring at-risk youth in their native San Francisco.

“Something I’ve always been interested no matter where I’ve played is the history and people who came before me.”

Bougere says many blacks have left the Fillmore District.

“It has drastically changed over the last 25 years,” Bougere said. “Gentrification and gang enhancements have moved 90 percent of the blacks out and allowed landlords to inflate the rent.”

Marcus Books, one of the nation’s first black bookshops, closed in the Fillmore in 2014. A church on Fillmore Street named after John Coltrane closed in 2016. A lounge named after Booker T. Washington and several jazz clubs are long gone. An upscale Southern restaurant called 1300 on Fillmore, enjoyed by Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Draymond Green, closed last year after 10 years. The Fillmore Jazz Preservation District Merchants Association also no longer exists.

Even so, the Fillmore District still has more African-Americans than most other parts of the city.

Then-Warriors teammate Matt Barnes introduced Durant to the Fillmore District in 2016 and Durant instantly fell in love with it. Durant was pleasantly surprised when he recently learned more about the black history of the neighborhood.

“I went to State Bird Provisions and couple restaurants over there. You could tell it was a part of town where a lot of black folks live,” Durant said. “You could tell that there is a black cultural experience.”

Durant grew up primarily in Seat Pleasant, Maryland, which is predominantly black. Seeing gentrification firsthand is nothing new for him, as he said he saw it in effect when his beloved Washington Redskins moved into FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, nearly 5 miles from his hometown, in 1997. He said gentrification worked in a positive manner in terms of bringing better businesses to a still predominantly black town. Landover had 17,913 black residents in 2016 and they were 77.5 percent of the population.

“I wanted to be in the big city and mix it up a little bit. … I’ve never lived in a big city before by myself.”

“We dealt with gentrification growing up a little bit when the Redskins moved to Maryland,” Durant said. “They cleaned up the area around the stadium. You kind of knew who that was for. You understand the dynamics of just life when you’re in a major city. So many people want to provide a better lifestyle. I kind of understood what that was about, and I just saw the growth of P.G. [Prince George’s] County, where I’m from. You see that in major cities all of the time.”

Durant moved to Austin, Texas, for his lone season of college basketball at the University of Texas. During his lone season playing for the now-defunct Seattle SuperSonics, Durant lived in Mercer Island, Washington, which was connected to Seattle by a bridge. He enjoyed the restaurants and the downtown life Seattle had to offer, but the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008 and became the Thunder.

While living in Oklahoma City, Durant enjoyed the black roots he found in the Deep Deuce District, which was the heart of Oklahoma City’s African-American neighborhood in the 1920s and ’30s. Musicians such as blues and jazz vocalist Jimmy Rushing and jazz guitarist Charlie Christian, as well as author Ralph Waldo Ellison, once lived there.

“Something I’ve always been interested no matter where I’ve played is the history and people who came before me,” said Durant, who previously owned a Southern soul food restaurant in Oklahoma City. “When I lived in Oklahoma City, I lived in Deep Deuce, and that was where the black community congregated. Just to know the history of the people that lived in those streets in the city that you live in and play in is pretty cool.”

On Nov. 20, Durant returned to the Fillmore District to make a surprise appearance at a turkey giveaway for needy families hosted by Barnes, Project Level and Steezzy Cares at the Fillmore Heritage Center. San Francisco mayor London Breed and former Warriors star Baron Davis also attended.

“There’s many layers to KD than the world sees every night on the court,” Barnes said. “Being a friend and really getting a chance to see him open is special.”

Durant, who is averaging 29.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game this season, has also gotten to know Breed, who is San Francisco’s first black female mayor.

“She told me she came from that area and had been giving back to the community for a long, long time,” Durant said. “Representing the community and being in the position she’s in, I’m sure she is very proud. And I’m sure the community was proud of her as well. …

“You know how hard it is for women in general to get those positions? For a black woman to be in that position, it just shows how much work, time and effort she has put in. To see the impact she had on the community was inspiring.”

Breed spent time speaking to Durant at the community event and said she gave him a sales pitch in regards to staying in San Francisco to play for the Warriors next season.

“Well, I’m not going to reveal all my persuasion tactics. But, yes,” Breed said. “I let him know how much we love him in San Francisco and how we all look forward to seeing him play here.

“He and the other players are all really good guys, and the community needs role models like them.”

The Warriors hope Durant will continue to make his home in San Francisco as he will be the league’s most coveted free agent next summer. The nine-time All-Star was on hand when the Warriors broke ground on their new arena, called the Chase Center, and also recently got an updated tour of the arena on Nov. 9 with team sponsors and the media.

“I’ve been hearing about it for so long,” Durant said. “Two years ago, I went to the groundbreaking. Now, I just wanted to see how far they’ve come with it. It looks amazing. I just wanted to see it.”

It remains to be seen what the connections Durant has made to the city will mean as far as his NBA future is concerned. In the meantime, he plans to just continue enjoying life in San Francisco.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.