A sweat-drenched Kevin Durant sauntered over to a row of black leather seats just off the adjoining courts inside the Thunder's training center, plopping down in the first bolted-in chair, finally taking a load off following another day at the office, another practice session that ended with him as the last player on the court, another 15 extra minutes maniacally adding more weapons to his arsenal.
Over the next 17 minutes, Durant opened up about his career in a sit-down interview with The Oklahoman, discussing his trials, tribulations and triumphs, failures, focus and future.
By the time he was done, Durant left no doubt where his mindset is as he enters his seventh NBA season. It was as clear as the sweat-stained imprint the back of his No. 35 practice jersey left on that leather seat.
“I want to be the greatest,” Durant said. “I want to be remembered as one of the greatest. When they redo that top 50 players (of all time), I want to be a part of that.”
Make no mistake. In Durant's eyes, that's not solely an individual achievement. He's over those. Winning, he says, is how he defines greatness.
“This whole thing is a fraternity. But it's a different fraternity when you're staring at a group of guys that won championships, MVPs, and you can say you're on that level with them in your career,” Durant said. “It's only a handful of guys, maybe 15, 20 guys, that you can get in that conversation with. And I'm nowhere near there yet. So that's where I want to be.”
Durant spent his first six seasons proving he was a stud. Now he wants to be known as simply a champion. The past two seasons showed Durant just how elusive a title can be. In 2012, the Thunder took a 1-0 lead on Miami in the NBA Finals before losing four straight. Last season, the Thunder's playoff run was derailed by a season-ending knee injury to Russell Westbrook.
It's not that those setbacks sparked a heightened sense of urgency for Durant. It's just at this stage in his career, championships are now all that truly matter.
“It's always been important to me. I always was one of those guys that played to win,” Durant said. “But, first coming into the league, I was a little confused because it's so many great teams every night. It was no cupcake games like it was in high school and college. Every night, you got to come to play because these are great players. They were all something coming in. And my thoughts coming into the league was, of course, to win, but once I got on the court it was to establish myself. That's what I thought. Grow as a player and then worry about that.
“But now, I've played in the All-Star Games; I've scored 30 points, 40 points before; had a triple-double before. I feel individually, like stats and stuff, I feel like I did my job with that and I established myself. But it's about winning championships, and the first thing I got to get out of my head is ‘I.' It's like, ‘I want to win a championship.' It's not about that because one guy doesn't win it, two guys don't win it, three guys don't win it. So it's about the whole team, the whole organization winning a championship.”
This is where Durant danced with demons last year.
Few on the outside world knew it, but chasing a championship swallowed up Durant a season ago. In many ways, he succumbed to the pressure our sports culture puts on star players. He felt he needed to be perfect. Felt his team had to perform flawlessly.
“Last year, I was obsessed with it,” Durant said of winning a title. “Like, I wasn't going to sleep because I wanted to win so bad. I was screaming at my teammates, at the refs, at the coaches. I got mad because I thought ‘if we have a bad game here, we're not going to win a championship.'”
That edge, Durant said, is part of the reason he was uncharacteristically whistled for 12 technical fouls last season — matching his combined total from his five previous seasons.
“So I'm not going to let that overtake my mind,” said Durant of his championship chase. “I mean, of course I want to win it, but I'm not obsessed with it. I'm going to put in the work to help my team, but I'm not going to be obsessed with it because that's when I compromise myself, and most of the time it doesn't work out.”