One by one, Kevin Durant went down the Thunder roster, talking about his teammates. This was supposed to be Durant’s day. Instead, he made it theirs.
Durant was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player on Tuesday, and the Thunder staged a press conference/pep rally at its old practice facility to honor the superstar who has ignited the Thunder’s remarkable success. But Durant’s humanity upstaged the coronation.
Durant talked about Hasheem Thabeet’s smile and Derek Fisher’s presence and Kendrick Perkins’ encouragement and Nick Collison’s respect and Thabo Sefolosha’s selflessness. Durant, fighting back tears, told the story of new teammate Caron Butler, after a tough stretch, slipping a piece of paper into Durant’s locker that simply said, “KD MVP.”
Durant talked about considering Serge Ibaka as a brother. About Reggie Jackson becoming one of his best friends. Talked about knowing that Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb look up to him, which constantly reminds Durant of the man he ought to be. Talked about the spirit of rookies Steven Adams and Andre Roberson, the latter of which again almost brought Durant to tears.
And Durant talked most about Russell Westbrook, his maligned sidekick “who will run through a wall for me.”
By day’s end, if not long before, Durant had 14 teammates who would do the same.
Durant lifted the veil on a mostly-closed society. This franchise offers basketball with a flair but rarely with anything other than stock answers on what makes it all work. No one allowed to peek into the holy of holies and see what makes tick this great mix of veteran leadership and maturing stars. Until Tuesday, when Durant spoke from the heart.
“We inside the walls of our building, we know what we have here,” said general manager Sam Presti. “It’s pretty rare, and we don’t take it for granted. One of the things I’m proud of, we mean what we say. These guys really do care about each other.
“It’s a tremendous sign of strength and leadership on the part of Kevin to be able to share his emotions in today’s society, where sometimes that is not looked at with a strength that should be. But it doesn’t surprise me, because he’s an authentic person.”
Durant’s speech lasted 25 minutes. Twelve of those minutes were totally dedicated to his teammates.
“I felt those guys deserved to be singled out,” Durant said. “They sacrificed for me. We don’t get to tell each other how much we appreciate each other. I thought this was the perfect setting to do so. We’ve grown so much as a team, I just wanted to let them know how much I love ’em, how much I care for ‘em, how much I appreciate ‘em.”