AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- With about 90 minutes to go before tipoff Tuesday, Billy Donovan made a brief announcement.
"Before we get started," the Oklahoma City Thunder coach said, "we're going to rest Kevin and Serge tonight."
With the Thunder all but assured the 3-seed in the Western Conference, and having played 24 hours prior in Toronto, the decision to sit two starters -- in this case, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka -- isn't much of a needle-mover. It's standard, commonplace for the league as the season moves toward the playoffs.
Shortly after Donovan's announcement, Durant walked onto the floor to go through a light workout. Two fans stood in their seats by the tunnel tucked in the corner of the Palace of Auburn Hills. They held bright yellow signs, waving and yelling as Durant emerged. One read, "Germany to the D to see OKC!!"
Five seconds after I took this picture I told them he wasn't playing tonight. "You're kidding! Oh no," was the reply pic.twitter.com/K0VVXhTSfm
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) March 29, 2016
Kevin York is a physical-education teacher in Traverse City, Michigan, which is roughly four hours north of Detroit. He says he comes to one Pistons game a year, if he's lucky.
"I would say it's gotta be about a 9½ (out of 10)," York said of his disappointment level at Durant sitting. "It's pretty high. It's high. The only thing that would make up for that half is if I get a signature; it would lower it a little. It would go way down."
But next to him is Jurek Hegemann, a German foreign-exchange student who is staying with York. As York said, "For him, this will probably be the only [game] he comes to in his life before he goes back."
"I would say like an 8, because I really wanted to see him," Hegemann said of his disappointment scale, "but the whole experience is great for me."
The consolation prize isn't all that bad: There's still Russell Westbrook.
This is the ugly side to the NBA's rest-and-recovery mindset: the fan who makes the trip from four hours away just to see a favorite player, who turns out unexpectedly to be sitting the game out. York said they didn't break the bank or anything on tickets -- $65 apiece -- but with gas, lodging and, of course, the time, it's still a costly evening.
"They have so many good players, but I'm a huge Kevin Durant fan," York said. "It's enormous. I've been a fan since he came in the league. It's not like I started liking him last year or something.
"I love Oklahoma City and with Durant, it's rare to get to see him," he said. "OKC comes here once a year, so you don't get to see him much."
Or, maybe never.
York later tweeted that his night turned out OK after all.
— Kevin York (@Kevin_York_1) March 30, 2016