If you want to know how big a star Kevin Durant has become, search his name on Twitter.
The Thunder swingman had the Internet's popular social-networking site buzzing after he led Team USA to another victory at the FIBA World Championships. He'd scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He'd almost single-handedly held off Brazil's upset bid.
Durant was being talked about not only by folks from across the United States but also by people from around the world. There were 140-character comments in Spanish, Turkish, Italian and Portuguese.
Playing in the world championships is only broadening Durant's popularity. It is growing his brand. It is widening his stardom.
That, Thunder fans, is great news for Oklahoma City.
Small-market teams like the Thunder face many challenges, but one of the biggest is being able to keep superstars. They want to be paid big bucks, they want to win championships and they want to be able to become megastars, and sometimes, a small-market club can't provide all of that.
The Thunder, though, has already shown that it can pay the big bucks by offering Durant a maxed-out contract extension earlier this summer.
Durant, in turn, showed that he believes this franchise is committed to winning by signing the contract without a player option, a clause that would've allowed him to become a free agent after the fourth year of the deal.
Durant didn't want it.
Despite all the feel-good vibes, something the Thunder could never deliver to Durant is worldwide stardom. Being recognized in Romania. Being cheered in China. Being praised in Paraguay. Those are the type of things that require broad exposure.
Exposure like a player receives during the world championships.
Now, this isn't to say that Durant had made no inroads before in becoming a global star. Clearly, he has. Earlier this summer, he went to China and was mobbed. Thousands of fans turned out just to get a glimpse of him.
His star is international.
But it never hurts to grow that brand.
It means more sponsorship dollars. More businesses like Nike and Gatorade want to pay Durant millions to pub their products, and that helps the Thunder. Those are dollars that the franchise doesn't have dole out, and yet, they increase Durant's bottom line.
It's a win-win situation for both sides.
So is the ego boost that comes with international stardom. Granted, Durant is one of the most humble superstars that you'll find in sports, but the dude still has an ego. Every great athlete does. It doesn't hurt anything for him to feel the love wherever he goes.
Here's betting that's happening more and more these days.
He's appeared on magazine covers. He's been written about in newspapers around the world. He's been talked about by pundits from every corner of the globe. For a time Monday afternoon, Durant was even a trending worldwide topic on Twitter. That means he was among the 10 most twittered about topics at that point in the day.
Those are big-time boosts for a small-market star.
Over the years, players in Durant's position have fled to bigger markets for a variety of reasons. While the Thunder can control some of the variables that will influence their young superstar, the franchise can't turn him into a worldwide phenom.
Know what can help the process? Scoring a team-high 21.0 points a game and looking like a man among the boys at the world championships. That's the kind of thing that is adding more shine to his already brilliant star.
Good for Durant.
Even better for Oklahoma City.