I lived in Maryland for a brief time a little over a decade ago, and one of the things I quickly learned is that the area in and around Washington D.C. is historically one of the best places on the planet for basketball talent. It was in Prince George’s County that I first heard of Michael Beasley who was attending Riverdale Baptist School at the time. I also kept hearing about Nolan Smith and Kevin Durant. The local universities have their own basketball lore, but it was the high school scene that captivated my attention.
The thing that I liked most about Kevin Durant both then and now is that he trains and plays with a huge chip on his shoulder. I remember him appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated a few years ago, and the story talked about how much he disliked being No. 2. From his being selected with the 2nd pick overall in the draft, to losing in the 2012 NBA Finals, Durant has endured a lot of seconds. Over the years he has blossomed into a man who is very comfortable in his skin, and after joining the Golden State Warriors in 2016, he can finally add champion to his list of accomplishments.
I flew to Los Angeles this past December to observe and interview Durant in a different setting than the usual places of D.C., Philadelphia, and New York. L.A. is a very laid back city and with the celebrity of Hollywood all around, the people tend not to get starstruck or too excited when they see a recognizable face. That is the kind of treatment is KD is looking for. He doesn’t want the red carpet and bright lights. He comes from a very humble place and he is okay with fitting in and or blending into the crowd.
After the game I joined the media scrum outside the visitor’s locker room inside Staples Center. Kobe Bryant had both his numbers 8 and 24 retired by the Lakers at halftime. Durant answered some questions about the fanfare and then he shed light on the game.
I rattled off a question about the Seattle SuperSonics and he lit up when he replied. Moments later he walked to his locker and proceeded to gather his things for a postgame shower. I interrupted his progress by asking if he had another couple minutes for a follow up question, to which he responded in the affirmative and proceeded to take a seat. I immediately sat to his left and we had an extended conversation. He said one very profound thing that has remained in my memory, which was, “I respect you more than the people on TV…they don’t know me, and they don’t care to know me, but they talk about me and what I’m thinking or doing as if they do know who I am and what, I’m about. You’re here…on the road…in the locker room…you’re in the trenches…I respect that, and I’ll talk to you anytime.”
He and I talked about the hardships he and his family experienced growing up, MVP awards, the dynamic of Draymond Green and more:
I remember you hosting NBA players in DC during the lockout and you talked then about how those games helped your development.
It gave me confidence playing in those games. I was trying a lot of different stuff, and once you try stuff in a game setting, it’s easier to try it in a real game, so moves I was trying then…became muscle memory in my mind with the moves I’m doing now.
I have to ask you…did you really take Mega Bus during that one summer from NYC to DC?
Yeah I did, and it was a long trip, too!
Can you talk about how Draymond Green keeps you guys in it when he’s being vocal, and really talking to the other team and taking their best shot?
Well that’s just how he plays—with that edge, that intensity level—that’s what gets him going. Some players are different, not everybody can do that, and that’s what makes Draymond unique, is that he can walk it and he can talk it, and he goes out there and does everything we need him to do on the defensive end. Offensively—creating shots for everybody, putting pressure on the defense. So we want him to stay who he is…never change. I know a lot of people…especially you know, the refs are quick with the techs with him, but for the most part we want him to stay who he is. He’s done a great job of just keeping his head and realizing that we need him out there on the floor, so he’s been phenomenal for us.
How is it that you can stay so humble?
That’s the type of person that I am. No matter what, whatever happens… I always gotta be humble, and know that at any point this can be taken away.
You always have your mother and family around supporting you.
Like I told you, when I was growing up, I didn’t think none of this would happen. My goal was to make it to the NBA. I had my sights set on making it to the NBA, and once I did, I was like cool…whatever happens after this is a bonus. The stuff that’s going on for me right now…I’m just so blessed to be in this position. First of all to have people believe in me, every single night, and to showcase my skills, and have teammates that believe in me, they trust in me. But to become an All-Star, to win an All-Star MVP, and League MVP…that’s just like on a whole other level for me man. It’s a blessing, so having my mom there is like we’re going through this together. It was just me, my mother, my brother, and my dad living in an apartment, two-bedroom apartment, and to go from that so quickly to this… I was 18 [years old] living in a two-bedroom apartment, with my family, and months later I was in the NBA. Eleven years later I’m an All-Star MVP, League MVP, and champion—stuff is coming quickly when you think about it, and I never expected it.