When Kevin Durant was drafted second overall in the 2007 NBA draft by the Seattle Supersonics, much was expected of the gangly, 19 year old, 6’9″ 200 lb University of Texas product. Durant didn’t disappoint. He led all NBA rookies in scoring and was named Rookie of the Year.
But Seattle finished a dismal 20-62 that year and, failing to hold up the state of Washington for a new arena, ownership packed up and moved to Oklahoma City where a unique and special love affair between city and fans still endures.
Making that love affair even more special, Durant was named Most Valuable Player by the NBA for the 2013-14 season.
In his acceptance speech — a 25 minute tearful tribute to the city, the fans, his teammates, coaches, and most of all, to his mother — Durant recounted anecdote after anecdote that revealed why he felt so blessed to be where he was.
To say he had a rough time growing up is an understatement:
On his mother: “One my best memories I have is when we moved into our first apartment. No bed, no furniture, we all just sat in the living room and just hugged each other. We thought we made it. … You wake me up in the middle of the night in the summertime, making me run up a hill, making me do push-ups. Screaming at me from the sidelines of my games at eight or nine years old … When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.
His mother also worked hard to keep her son out of trouble:
As Rose had reminded us just a few years before, these big boys of the NBA are never too old to thank the women who brought them into the world — even when it’s in front of the world. When Durant nearly quit basketball as a seventh-grader, the gangly kid questioning everything from his own talent to the idea that all of this hard work was even worth it and telling his Godfather, Taras “Stink” Brown, that he was done, Wanda was the one who told him to keep going.
Pratt, who worked as a Postal Service mail handler to make ends meet, had grown up on the same rough streets as her boys. She knew that quitting anything at this crucial stage only led youngsters down a dark path. Then during his freshman season at National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, Md., with Durant frustrated at the lack of attention from AAU coaches and tempted by things that tempt kids at that age, he nearly quit again until guess-who intervened.
“I was going to quit, and be a so-called street guy,” he told me in April 2012. “(Pratt) could see it in my eyes and she pulled me to the side one day, and she slapped it out of me. She talked to me, gave me some good words and kind of revved me up a little bit, so ever since then I’ve been on the same path.”
Durant proved himself a community leader during the aftermath of the devastating tornado that struck Oklahoma City in 2013, donating a million dollars to the Red Cross and making appearances around the city to boost morale and comfort those who lost so much.
But Oklahoma City fans didn’t need any proof of Durant’s philanthropy. He has given millions of dollars to charitable organizations in the city over the years and given generously of his time to youth groups, trying to keep at-risk kids out of trouble.
Durant took his game from the stratosphere into outer space this year — a primary reason he got 119 first place MVP votes compared to perennial winner Lebron James’ 6. His teammate and friend Russell Westbrook was out 27 games with knee surgery and during that time, Durant put on a display of offensive play rarely seen in the history of the game:
Durant’s run of 41 consecutive games this season with at least 25 points was the third longest streak in NBA history. In all, he scored at least 40 points 14 times. He also averaged 7.4 rebounds and a career-high 5.5 assists while shooting 50 percent from the field.
“He does everything,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “You just can’t recall a guy that long who can do what he does every single night. Shooting from 30 feet on the floor with confidence and driving to the basket and dunking on guys, and then go post up, and on top of it, a great teammate and good kid.”
Durant moved to the front of the pack while Westbrook was out following his most recent knee surgery. Durant averaged 35 points and 6.3 assists during that span as the Thunder went 20-7 and remained among the league’s elite.
But is Durant the best player in the game today? It’s an esoteric argument considering it’s hard to qualitatively compare James and Durant. A purely statistical comparison would give the nod to Durant — this year. But James has been so good for so long that a good argument could be made that Lebron stands at the top of the NBA pyramid.
Let’s put it this way; I wouldn’t want to live on the difference between the two.
There’s so much raunchiness and ugliness in professional sports. But it may be symptomatic of why we love the games so much that one week, you can have Donald Sterling being punished for an ugly, racial tirade and the next, reward one of the truly nice people in sports with a Most Valuable Player award.