It started 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. Of course the ultimate goal in this league is to win a championship. But I’m never going to say I wasted a year. 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.”
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, was reminded that Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant described his team’s playoff exit in 2011 as a wasted year. Durant, 24, was asked if he might feel the same as he ages.
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. I’m always going to fight for this game I love. 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.”
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 seen us grow 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.”