It’s amazing what success and talent can do to an athlete’s image. We want our athletes - and therefore our role models - to not only be great on the court, but be friendly, charismatic, down-to-earth and stay out of trouble off the court.
It’s asking a lot. They are only human. Jordan gambled, Kobe was accused of rape in Colorado and LeBron crushed an entire city on national television. But we still love them. Tiger Woods and Michael Vick taught us that success on the field can figuratively heal the wounds of their indiscretion. We want to watch physical specimens reach the height of their sport, and if they happen to take time for autographs and give time and money for a good cause - and act like we expect our children to act - that’s just icing on the cake. We assume the better the player, the more arrogant he is, and we learn to live with it.
Then there’s Durant. He’s the man who gives his mom a hug and kiss after every game.
He’s the man who didn’t make excuses against the referees for a missed foul call on the biggest stage, but simply said he should have made the shot.
He’s the man who thanked the media for all their coverage after losing the NBA finals.
And most importantly for Oklahoma City, he’s the man who signed a long-term deal in a small market to share the spotlight with other up-and-coming stars and give an area of the country that is new to the limelight a chance to make some noise. The announcement wasn’t made on primetime television, because that’s not who Durant is.
Not to mention he continued to behave like this while being the NBA’s scoring leader, second in MVP voting and while taking the Thunder to the NBA Finals. That’s pretty close to the summit of the sport.
It’s sad this column even has to be written. Why should we be so surprised? There are many other athletes, including in the NBA, that we’re told are all-around good guys. But for every one of them there is Gilbert Arenas with a gun and Dwight Howard trying his best to get his coach fired.
Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Derek Fisher are among those who should be praised for their leadership and service. They understand they are in a position to make their community better, and they are taking advantage of that opportunity.
All of these guys mentioned are talented, veteran players, but none of them rose through the ranks of the NBA quite like Durant. Remember, he’s only 23 years old. He’s not supposed to be this mature, and he’s not supposed to be this good.
What makes him so humble; so seemingly genuine and kind?
His location could play a factor. Oklahoma City is a small market in terms of NBA cities and in the Midwest, where national news travels less. The logic makes sense, although he is still a household name with billion-dollar companies wanting to put his name on their products. Not to mention a big-fish-in-a-small-pond situation like Durant in OKC can often lead to more arrogance on the part of the superstar. Plus, the Thunder are the only game in town, which means Durant stands out more there than, say, Kobe Bryant in LA, where celebrities are everywhere.
Another explanation could be he didn’t know how good he really was. By that I mean, I’m sure he always knew he was great at basketball, but it’s different when you have millions of people reminding you how good you are. Durant got a lot of that this year, and there’s no sign of that going away anytime soon. But Durant’s season ended on the sport’s biggest stage, three games away from a title, and he still was the class-act he’s always been.
Maybe the reason behind it is the simplest reason; that’s who Kevin Durant is. He is a pure shooter with ice in his veins who after staring down the final shot, goes over to his mother, and then thanks everyone who made the win happen.
I want this to be the case. We need a Kevin Durant to show us you can be the best in aspects of your life off the court, as well as on it, and to show kids how to conduct yourself when everyone is looking.
Only time will tell, but I hope this is the real Kevin Durant we saw this June, because if so, he’ll have the love of more than just Oklahoma City.
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