There's no telling how many elementary school students were in Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday night, but the children from Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., were in the heart of Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant.
A 20-year-old gunman entered the school Friday morning and murdered 20 children and six adults before killing himself.
In a heartfelt display of compassion that no doubt will add to his ever-expanding fan base, the league's three-time scoring champion paid homage to the tragedy by inscribing “NEWTOWN CT” on the shoes he wore during OKC's 113-103 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
Durant scored a game-high 31 points, shooting 10 for 14 from the field, 9 for 9 from the free-throw line and 2 for 3 from 3-point range before a sellout crowd of 18,203.
Thunder photographer Richard Rowe snapped a close-up of Durant's shoe, which quickly spread via Twitter.
The team's Twitter account (@okcthunder) changed its avatar to a ribbon tribute for the Town of Newtown.
Durant first learned of the tragedy after his team's morning shootaround practice in preparation for the game, which wound up becoming the Thunder's 10th straight victory.
Afterward, Durant wore a blank expression as he slowly dressed, his game shoes neatly placed inside his locker.
“This is just crazy,” Durant said in a whisper, shaking his head. “I don't get it. That hit me, man. I'm sitting in the house all day. It was so gloomy out. It was so dark outside. I was like, ‘Thank God we've got a basketball game tonight.'
“Life's tough. I've got little cousins. I've got a goddaughter who just started kindergarten. … People who have children know how this stuff feels.”
Thunder center Hasheem Thabeet was born in Tanzania and played collegiately at Connecticut in Storrs, which is roughly 80 miles northeast of Newtown. Rookie guard Jeremy Lamb also played at UConn and currently is with the Tulsa 66ers, the franchise's Developmental League team.
“All kinds of things happen in this world,” said the soft-spoken Thabeet, his eyes darting while trying to find the right words. “We've just got to pray and be positive about it. We can't be negative. Some people are talking about this and saying, ‘Don't trust no one.' … We've just got to thank God that we are here and we are safe … and He has them (the victims) in a safer place.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who has two teenage children, and his staff members spoke in disbelief of the massacre throughout the afternoon while planning for the game.
“It's a tragedy,” Brooks said after his postgame interview session. “It's sad and it's disgusting at so many different levels.
“Our hearts go out to the victims and their families as a whole organization.”