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.”
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