All the little boy wanted was to be the best in his neighborhood. That was his dream. A pristine purpose aimed at satisfying the kid's newest passion, not spawn the pursuit of college recruiters and NBA riches.
For an 8-year-old Kevin Durant, that meant conquering the competition at Seat Pleasant Recreation Center, the one-story, brown-brick building just across the Anacostia River in suburban Washington, D.C., that became the base for everything the boy would achieve.
Before Durant blossomed into the nation’s No. 2 high school prospect, the 2007 National College Player of the Year, the 2008 NBA Rookie of the Year and now a first-time All-Star, his basketball journey began with a daily 15-minute walk to his favorite place.
He ate there. Slept there. Became a player there.
"It was just something I always thought was fun,” Durant said. "If I got in trouble at home, I could always go to the gym and get my mind off it. Really, that’s how it started, just trying to get away from stuff.”
Durant’s hoop dreams rose out of a staunch desire to make the rec center’s youth league team. He fantasized about his inclusion during those walks to the community center off Addison Road, across from the Amoco service station. Pay-to-play didn’t exist in these parts. Kids got cut.
"I thought I wasn’t going to make it,” Durant said. "I was up late thinking about it, sitting up in the room thinking about the day they would post the paper.”
Durant, taller and lankier than everyone his age, made the cut. He wore No. 24. But the kid didn’t set his eyes on a larger goal until the next season, after an unsuspecting woman approached the scrawny star after a show-stopping playoff performance and sparked a conversation that changed his outlook.
"She said, ‘You should change your number from 24 to 23 because that’s how you’re playing out there, like Jordan,’” Durant remembered.
The woman’s words stuck with Durant. From then on, he started watching NBA games and paying closer attention to colleges.
"The dream just kind of expanded,” Durant said. "It started off as something small. I remember thinking I never was going to get there. But then it grew into something that I worked hard for and something I told myself I wanted to get to.”
A mother’s love and support
Wanda Pratt vowed to help her youngest son fulfill his dream.
When Durant, still only 10, told his mother he wanted to pursue basketball as a profession, she asked him if he was sure. Pratt insisted her baby boy take time to think about whether that’s what he really wanted. Durant came back the next day with the same affirmative answer.
"And I made a promise to him that I would help him do whatever he needed to do,” Pratt said.
Durant had no idea what he had signed up for. He now admits he would soon regret the conversation because, "She pushed me like nobody else.”
On the recommendation of a family friend, Pratt entrusted Durant’s development to Taras Brown, a neighborhood coach known around the way as "Stink.” Brown wasn’t just demanding. He was a drill sergeant.
While friends ran the streets, Durant got run ragged. Video games took a back seat to suicides. Homework was followed by hill sprints. Brown never let Durant play pick-up basketball out of fear it would allow bad habits and poor defense. Instead, the two did duck walks, jumped rope and performed shooting drills.
Every day, Durant got out of school, went to his grandmother’s house, did homework and grabbed a snack, then made the trek to Seat Pleasant Rec. Some days, Durant spent so much time at the center his grandmother would bring him food and he’d take naps behind a curtain.
Brown introduced Durant to a nearby neighborhood hill at the corner of L Street and Balsamtree Drive. Seat Pleasant, Md., ballers have named the monster "Hunt’s Hill.” It starts down on 61st Street but is steepest between Balsamtree and Cedar Height Drive, where the scenic view extends from Prince George’s County to downtown in the District.
Durant and his teammates walked or jogged to the hill, a five-minute drive from the community center. They’d sprint up Hunt’s Hill and backpedal down. Some did it once. Others twice. Durant would run until his legs gave out.
"He worked so hard,” Pratt said. "That’s what people don’t get.
He worked so hard from 8 years old to the age of when he decided that that’s what he wanted to do. And then from there up until now he works non-stop.”
Pratt tried to continue but her voice gave out, cracking, then going silent as she collected her thoughts.
"It really touches me ... I admire him,” she said.
Learning life lessons
Pratt always viewed the daily regimen as doubly beneficial. She signed up Durant and older brother Tony for sports to instill structure and values. Through organized sports, Kevin and Tony, who is three years older, would learn life lessons. Hard work and honesty, determination and dedication.
"Those are the fundamentals that I tried to teach my sons,” said Pratt, a former postal worker and self-described disciplinarian who assured her opinion at home was the
Durant’s father, Wayne Pratt, a federal police officer, was separated from the family early in Kevin’s childhood years. But the two have had a relationship since Durant was a boy and maintain a strong relationship today.
Wanda Pratt grew to respect Brown, though, because he stood for the same principles, and he’d be dammed if little Kevin wasn’t going to fall in line. Brown taught Durant three moves: a pull-up jumper, a two-dribble jump shot and a baseline drive that allowed for several options.
Only once did Durant object to Brown’s directives. Brown had Durant lay flat on the floor while holding a medicine ball in a shooting position as if about to shoot. He was supposed to hold his position for an hour.