It began when he was asked if this season was a wasted year of his life.
But after Kevin Durant provided a level-headed and mature response, filled with perspective and void of hyperbole, his answer seemed to almost sell short his competitive spirit.
“Nothing's ever a wasted year for me. It's basketball,” Durant said. “I've grown so much as a man since the beginning of the season. I've grown so much as a leader. Nothing is ever wasted.”
Durant, speaking Thursday at his season-ending news conference with reporters a day after the Thunder lost in Game 5 of its Western Conference semifinal to the Memphis Grizzlies, went on to say there are more important things in his life.
“Of course the ultimate goal in this league is to win a championship. But I'm never going to say I wasted a year,” Durant said. “I'm blessed to even wake up and do something I love every day. So it's never wasted. We take that for granted a lot. But that's something I'm not going to do. I enjoy playing this game. I enjoy playing for this city, my teammates. So every day I get to see those guys and go through some tough times and laugh and argue, it's never wasted. I'm just blessed to be here. And I'm never going to take it for granted.”
The question posed to Durant was centered on comments made by Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who described his team's playoff exit in 2011 as a wasted year. Durant, 24, was asked Thursday if he might feel the same as he ages with seasons that end short of a championship.
Following his response, Durant was then asked what he would say to possible critics who might hear his outlook and question his competitive fire.
“I don't give a damn. I'm going to be who I'm going to be,” Durant said. “I'm not Kobe Bryant. I'm not Michael Jordan. I'm not LeBron James. I'm not Magic Johnson. I'm me. I'm not going to ever compromise myself, my integrity and what I believe in for winning some basketball games and winning a championship. That's just not I how I was brought up.”
In 11 playoff games, Durant averaged 30.8 points, nine rebounds and 6.3 assists, all playoff career highs. But a disappointing ending in which he averaged 27.3 points on 39.8 percent shooting in the Thunder's final four games sparked criticism about Durant's performance. A day after being eliminated, Durant then risked throwing logs onto that fire.
“I'm always going to fight for this game I love,” Durant said. “I'm going to claw until the last buzzer sounds. And if that's after a championship, then of course I'll be happy. I'm not satisfied just being in this league and losing. I'm going to work as hard as I can to try to get to that mountaintop. I enjoy playing the game. I enjoy being here. But I'm never going to come out to the media and say we wasted a year because we lost a championship. Like I said, I don't have to be Kobe Bryant.”
Thunder guard Derek Fisher, a teammate of Bryant's at the time of his comments, on Thursday defended Durant's stance.
“When you think about the stages of their respective careers when the question was asked, it makes a difference,” Fisher said. “If Kobe was 25, his answer may have been different at that time. But to be 15 years into a career where so much had been accomplished already, I can relate to that answer at that time. But I can also relate to Kevin's answer today.”
Fisher pointed to the team's 60-win season, an Oklahoma City era record, and the Thunder overcoming the loss of James Harden five days before the start of the regular season as reasons why Durant would say what he did.
“That says a lot about the direction of this organization,” Fisher said. “And so I can see why Kevin would still be optimistic about where things can go in the future.”
Using Durant's comments as an indictment on his will to win or killer instinct, Fisher said, also would be a mischaracterization.
“Toughness is not always how you show it and try to show it off. There's a toughness that doesn't have to be talked about or put out there for display. I think that's Kevin's style.”
The Thunder went 3-6 following the knee injury that knocked Russell Westbrook out of the playoffs. After each loss, Durant addressed the media with a surprising calm and confidence, not once showing frustration or anger in the face of what had become an increasingly trying postseason.
“I actually had peace going through this run,” Durant said following Wednesday's season-ending loss. “Because that's when we really had to come together and we really (grew) as a group. The only way it would make it frustrating is if we came in here with an attitude because Russ was out, or we missed shots, or we lost a game. But nobody did that. We all kept our spirits up, and we were always positive. That was the best part about our group; that no matter what happened to us we kept our heads high. You couldn't ask for nothing else.”