Sitting atop the current NBA Mt. Olympus, Kevin Durant’s image morphs into that of Zeus. Similar to the all powerful god of Greek mythology, Durant is the youngest of his superstar brethren. His year is a year where breakout thunderbolts rain from the sky, the hip, the hand. The shots simply don’t stop and through the three ball rain, thunder can be heard from further and further still…ultimately attacking your TV sets with the gold dusted force of a superstar, once in a generation comet. Oklahoma City has become the current backdrop of his battle cry. His will is that of a bull…the vision of an eagle…his eyes. Focused purposefully on what he can see but can’t touch, The Larry O’Brien trophy holograph speaks to his soul but remains out of his grasp perched up high in his thunderous sky. He wants it now and not with a sense of entitlement but with the battles of NBA history as his guide. He’s the future ghost of Hall of Fame NBA competitor’s past…with soul, mind and body set on a path to nab, grab and lightening bolt stab the energy source behind all the June confetti reign and shine. Yet, beyond his Mt. Olympus throne, Kevin Durant is just a regular guy. A guy who appreciates fan adulation near and far. He relishes his NBA dream and simply wants everyone to know he’s just another member of an up and coming team. But…versatile and purely skilled, he’s Larry’s fight, Baltimore Reggie’s angelic sight, Mike’s nice as Mike, Magic’s full court, behind the head light laced with Gervin’s finger roll, 30 foot jump shooter ice. Yeah his game is that Zeus right…
In last night’s 140-139 overtime loss to the Utah Jazz…most likely the game of the year…Zeus wanted two more and the foul that wasn’t called (NBA president Joel Litvin has since admitted Durant was fouled) will simply add to his humble Barkley fire. Kevin Durant’s hunger fuels his career desire to win and despite the aforementioned mythology just to give a chill guy his deserved moment… he’s as real as it gets…
I had a one track mind to see if I could get Kevin Durant to open up and give me some time. As I walk into the OKC locker room, I see Kevin sitting alone. Stunned, I peered outside to see if the head coach pre-game presser was about to begin. Scott Brooks…who played here in Philly once upon a time…gave me a few comments on team success and the quick fast…in a blurry development of Kevin Durant.
Michael Tillery: Was there a moment throughout the season or before where you knew this team could be special?
Scott Brooks: Training camp. We found out we had a chance to be good because every practice was top notch. This is as competitive as any team I’ve been around. The players…the coaches…I knew in those practices the way they challenge each other…that we would get better every game…and we have. We’re not going to win every game, but we are gaining some valuable experience, toughness…as the season is wearing on.
Michael Tillery: When did you know Kevin Durant was dynamic? Obviously he was a talent but we are all a little surprised he’s become the player he is so soon.
SB: The first day that I saw him. It was his work ethic. I knew he had the talent he just needed the body and you knew he was going to get stronger just because of what we do. His work ethic has not changed. He was not trying to impress the coaches from day one…he’s done it for three years and has improved. There’s no ifs and buts about it. He’s improved because of his work ethic.
I step back in the locker room to see Durant nodding his head to the beat. Pre-game, some stars speak…most do not…but I had a sense about Kevin and went with it. This season has been a great ride and I appreciate the keys to the car that has been provided.
Here’s was one of the brightest and unassuming stars in recent memory gave me…
MT: We’ve spoken at the various levels of your career and obviously this has become a special year being you are being considered for All NBA positions. How’s the ride young fella?
Kevin Durant: It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve gotten better as a team and I’ve tried to as an individual. We’re on the verge of trying to make the playoffs. Pushing to make the playoffs is fun. The last two years were a different experience. This is a new year for us and it’s fun being a part of something like this.
MT: Could you elaborate? Last season the team had that long losing streak and in the space of a year there’s been this monumental turn.
KD: Defense. We’ve come together. We just grew as a team…competitively as a group. That’s the reason why we are better.
MT: Maurice Cheeks.
KD: He’s funny man. He’s funny. He’s a great guy and someone you love to have around. Not just for the point guards but for me…Jeff (Green)…everybody. He’s been a bright spot here. Once he came into camp…he’s here and I hope he’s here for a while.
MT: He’s a champion and it’s obvious by your play and humble offerings that is where you want to get as a player. You don’t seem like the type who is about individual accolades. It’s all about that shine.
KD: (pauses) It’s all about winning. I feel confident if the other stuff comes in afterward it will take care of itself but it means nothing…nothing without a win.
MT: Obviously you are a surprising team this year and like you say…you have championship goals in mind. Do you actually think about raising that trophy in June? You hear about Cleveland, Orlando, Denver…the Lakers…is it a viable goal for the Oklahoma City Thunder to do it this year?
KD: (pauses again) If you think we are not going to win that is what is going to happen. You have to think and have confidence in our ability to think that we are. There are those teams out there but if we continue to work hard…play hard…and have that focus everyday then you never know what could happen. We are not going to just be happy making the playoffs. We will do our best to bring it home.
A reporter asks Kevin about MVP voting (“Could you finish in the top three or four?”). An honest and relevant question given his individual season with a OKC beat writer frame of mind and Kevin , without being disrespectful was affected. “I really don’t care about that. To be honest, I’m getting tired of people asking me about it. I want to win. It’s the only thing I care about. The first year coming in being mentioned as maybe winning Rookie of the Year was cool. It’s all about winning for me right now. Trying to get to the playoffs…trying to get to the championship…that’s the only way to go. That stuff…is over with for me…trying to win awards. Trying to go out there and play for awards…I really don’t think about it quite honestly. I just worry about going out there, playing with my teammates and having fun.”
The team’s public relations director walks up and gives Kevin tickets and he has this perplexed look on his face. Since he’s from Baltimore, there were a lot of his friends…family who made the drive up. He needed another ticket and asked if he could buy another one with the voice of a child. Public relations says yes and while he’s talking to another reporter, Kevin is handed a ticket compliments of rookie Eric Maynor. Durant was so relieved. Ticket demands are something.
MT: What do you focus on minute by minute in terms of your development that keeps you grounded in a way that you don’t want to talk about individual awards? What makes you that way? You’re young. A lot of guys come into the league and want to be that player.
KD: Of course. Of course I wanna be great. Don’t get me wrong. I want to be great. It’s just not something I go into a moment, game or year saying. It’s not something I go into the year thinking I wanna win MVP. I know it’s my third year, but I’ve seen a lot in this league in terms of different things but I’ve grown a lot. Winning awards is for rookies. Winning the Rookie of the Year. I just wanna come in here and win (you can see the pain on his face). I got tired of losing games. Winning is a big enough award for me. Being grounded? It comes from my Mom always teaching me to never be satisfied. I will not brag or boast.
MT: The ghosts of NBA past…you are being compared to those players instead of the current generation and I think that suits you. Do you have a sense of NBA history? We’ve talked about this before (He said would watch tapes of the great players now ten years ago) but who are the names? Give me the names and games you watched, took from and were inspired by.
KD: I watched a lot of different players. Reggie Lewis, Larry Bird of course, Magic, George Gervin…Mike of course. I watched a lot of different players. Those are the guys I keyed on. Some were similar to my build coming into the league…I tried to take small parts of their game and put it to mine. I think film is a key ingredient in getting better as a player.
MT: Your game is historically advanced but in what areas do you need to get better?
KD: Man everything. Ball handling. Shooting different shots…fade-a-ways. My pump faking…I try to add that this summer. Get the pump fake…different types of shots. I see shots that LeBron, Kobe Bryant or Melo…hit because those are the shots that I want to shoot and make. I just don’t want to work on one thing this summer but work on everything to make it (wait for it) mo betta. Defense. There are little things you can work on during the summer…like being a leader. When you are playing pick up games…not trying to just go out there and play…but play to win. Try to guard the best players in pick up. Go out there and try to run a team. Those are the things that I try to work on and I did that this past summer and it’s helping me now.
I take everything serious every time I step on the floor. That’s what is is about.
MT: Your jumper is to the point where it looks like it’s pure. You hit shots from everywhere. Most players come into the league having to work on their jumper. What went into developing such a dynamic weapon and how did you develop your jumper so soon?
KD: I worked hard on it. I worked hard on it every day. Different shots…pull up jumpers…pull up threes…turn around jumpers…fade-a-ways…I worked on all of them. I continue to work on all of them. I work on them over and over and over until it’s embedded in my brain and I have it when I’m on the floor. Guys ask me how you get better and I tell them it’s the over and over…doing the same things over and over. It might get boring but it’s effective.
MT: Your height. What made you want to focus on the total game three years into the league? I’m trying to get a sense you becoming the player you are so soon. Everyone knew you were a special player…I saw it at the Jordan Classic when you and Thaddeus sat before me at the podium…
KD: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MT: When did you begin to see unique things in your game that gave you the potential to become one of the most dynamic offensive forces the game has seen recently?
KD: I knew I had a chance if I kept working. That’s what it’s all about. I have faith in God…he put me here and gave me these skills. I knew at an early age I could do some things and I just kept getting better at them. Sometimes when you work hard you don’t see results so I just learned to be patient and realize my time is gonna come. My time is still far from now. I continue to have my faith in how I work…my teammates…and anything is possible for me.
MT: That support base. I think of mine and how strong it is with my family and friends…specifically my sister, editor and the sistas and fellas here on TSF and I want to help folks realize that without a base, there are too many other things to think about. You have one from Baltimore reaching to Texas and now in OKC.
KD: Without them, I just can’t see how I would function everyday. My family is here with me everyday. My brother, my Mom, my Grandmomma, my Dad…they help me out all the time.
Every time I’m at a game I see them.
Even away games. They come out to the away games. Support is big. People might not it. They think that when they are grown they don’t need it but it’s not true. You see someone in the stands that you know and when you are not playing so well it inspires you. It always give you that extra…to keep pushing and it kinda gets you ahead…you gotta keep pushing and things start to turn around.
That support system is very important for me man and like you said, fans from Texas always give me support as well. It’s unbelievable to have that support. Hopefully it continues.
MT: Getting used to the NBA grind..82 games…guys like me…talk about the grind…especially this time of year.
KD: One thing I used to do was go to NBA.com (feature on the Thunder) everyday. I just wanted to get a feel of how they do it everyday. I looked at a lot of things NBA players did…practices. I know 82 games is tough. 48 minutes every night is tough. I knew that part of it but like you said, outside of the game…like you said…dealing with the media…your family. So I would go on NBA.com and watch NBATV just to see how they handled things like that. I knew coming in it would be a part of the territory but you have to know…good or bad…there are always gonna be guys who want to talk to you in the media…win or lose. I had to brace myself for it coming into the league.
My first year it was tough on me. A lot of people said he wasn’t gonna be as good as we thought he was. He’s just a jump shooter. He’s too skinny.
Whatever they say, you have to deal with because they build you up to break you down.
One thing I can’t get too involved in is the media in regards to not getting too hyped over the good things because there are gonna be some bad things said as well…win or lose. You can’t worry about it. It’s an 82 game season. It’s all I thought it would be.
MT: Who is Kevin Durant…the professional…the player…the person.
KD: I’m chill. Laid back. I don’t do too much man. I like being around my family. I like being around my teammates. Everywhere I go I gotta be with somebody like my brother or my teammates. If you see me, you wouldn’t think I was a NBA player. You might ’cause I’m tall but otherwise you wouldn’t think so. I just like being a regular guy.
The end of last night’s classic…
Durant leads the NBA currently in scoring. He leads LeBron James by the slimmest of margins, 29.9 to 29.7. If he were to finish atop the scoring race, he would be the youngest scoring champion in NBA history.