The honor is called MVP. Most Valuable Player. But that’s not really what it is. Most outstanding player really is what these awards represent, including the NBA’s Maurice Podoloff Trophy. Which player had the best season?
Valuable is a stronger word than outstanding. Value has deeper meaning. Deeper roots. Value goes well past the hardwood. Past the profitability of a basketball franchise. Value can go into the psyche of an entire populace.
Which means the NBA got it right anyway. Kevin Durant is the NBA’s 2014 MVP. Most valuable player. Most valuable person.
Hard to imagine an NBA player ever being more valuable. Maybe Bill Russell in 1960s Boston, which enjoyed a dynasty like no other and was forced to face racial issues brought by Russell’s play and his activism. David Robinson helped the Spurs establish a culture that still goes strong, almost 30 years later. Kobe Bryant elevated a Laker brand that already was one of the most potent in sport. LeBron James transforms whichever franchise obtains his services.
But Durant’s value goes beyond his worth to the Thunder. Goes past the city identity that Robinson ignited in San Antonio. Durant’s value stretches to the entire state.
“For those of us who are from Oklahoma and see him on a day to day basis, we understand this award is bigger than a professional basketball player, for this city and this state,” Thunder president Sam Presti said during Durant’s MVP celebration. “It’s an opportunity for us to recognize and celebrate the person we see on a day to day basis, which is a tremendous ambassador for our city, our state. A tremendous citizen. And an inspiration for a lot of people of all ages across this great state of Oklahoma.”
And here’s part of the inspiration. Durant is a Marylander by birth and a Texas Longhorn by choice. But he’s ingrained himself in Oklahoma, either through public community actions or quiet humanitarian deeds or through simple humility despite being one of the world’s greatest athletes.
Durant talks like an Oklahoman. Refers to himself as an Oklahoman. He’s been in Oklahoma City now six seasons, is contracted to stay with the Thunder at least two more and, while you never know, talks like he plans to stay. Even more importantly, Durant acts like it.
That’s no small thing for a state that at one point suffered from a severe inferiority complex, courtesy of the Dust Bowl and John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” alleviated in part because of Bud Wilkinson’s OU football team, and later endured virtual anonymity. For decades, it wasn’t so much that Oklahoma suffered from a poor image in the national consciousness. It was that Oklahoma prompted no image at all.
In recent years, that has changed because of tragedy. The 1995 bombing of the Murrah Building. The killer tornadoes that struck Moore in 1999 and 2003 and 2013. But for better or worse, sport changes the perception of a place. Oklahoma City now is known internationally as the home of the Thunder. The home of Kevin Durant.
“There’s so many things that just try to bring us down here in Oklahoma,” Durant said during his MVP ceremony. “Natural disasters, the Oklahoma City bombing. I feel as though us being here, the Thunder, we’re just trying to shine a bright light. Hopefully something like this represents what we’re about.
“If we fall down, we get up. Fall down, we get up. If we finish second, we keep fighting until we finish first. Says a lot about the city. Perfect place for me. I enjoy being a part of something like this.”
There are no guarantees. LeBron left his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, for South Beach. Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard both fled Orlando for the glitz of Los Angeles. Who knows what Durant will do in summer 2016?
But it’s got to warm Oklahoma hearts to hear Durant use a few key phrases. Us. We. Perfect place for me.
It’s beginning to dawn on OKC and Oklahoma just how blessed has been this entire Thunder story. Getting an NBA franchise just as Durant was entering his second pro season. Getting not just a player destined to be one of the two or three best players of his generation, but a player with character traits most franchises can only dream about for their franchise star.
“We inside the walls of our building, we know what we have here,” Presti said. “We don’t take it for granted. We understand it’s a special time and place.”
That’s why Durant’s value soars. Not just in the standings, where the Thunder has been an elite team for five straight years and an NBA title contender for four. Not just on the ledger, where the Thunder’s profitability has moved the franchise into a giver, not a taker, in the NBA’s revenue-sharing system, despite OKC ranking 27th among the league’s 28 markets.
Durant’s value stretches to quality of living, where residents have a better attitude, believing that a person of Durant’s profile has found a home in our midst.
“He’s just invaluable to the city,” said Thunder fan Chris Griffith of Oklahoma City. “He’s an inspiration to especially kids, young athletes. He’s a great role model. I’ve got three boys, and they all play basketball. He’s just revered in our house, and I think he’s revered in the state of Oklahoma.”
Oklahoma is lucky to have Durant, and so is the Thunder.
Durant draws a circle around all he comes in contact with. OU or OSU fans who hate the Longhorns. Fans from Tulsa who now forget about the city rivalry with OKC. The people he plays with. The people he works with.
When the news arrived of Durant’s MVP, Thunder director of team operations Marc St. Yves, who goes back with the franchise decades to Seattle SuperSonic days, gave Durant a hug and said, “This is my first MVP.”
Durant said he thought about the words of St. Yves. And agreed. It was St. Yves’ MVP. It was his teammates’ MVP. It was his franchise’s MVP. It was the fans’ MVP. It was Oklahoma’s MVP.
“When we arrived in 2008, we were focused on building a franchise and not just a team,” Presti said. “Teams change year to year, but the franchise has to have a set of core values that allows it to endure the cycles of professional sports.
“Kevin personifies the value set that we feel are critically important to not only have a competitive team year to year, but also have an organization that is representative of a city where we play and where we live, and the type of franchise that can endure the environment of pro sports that is often very turbulent and unforgiving … A work ethic that is consistent with the state motto of Oklahoma, ‘Labor Conquers All.’ A person that understands he truly has made a difference in our community with how he deals with others.”
Most valuable player. Most valuable person.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.