Durant's new approach will challenge the perceived prerequisite star players are said to need before punching their championship ticket. Michael Jordan made no bones about being obsessed with winning. Kobe Bryant has been widely praised for having an inner drive that rivals Jordan's. Those two have 11 championships between them. Contrarily, before he led the Heat to the last two championships, LeBron James was widely criticized for not having that same win-at-all-cost attitude.
But Durant knew a change was needed. He looked himself in the mirror and admitted he saw someone who had become so wrapped up in being perfect in his pursuit of a title that he lost his way.
“Maybe it's not (a bad thing),” Durant said of the obsession. “But for me, it was just, like, I wasn't enjoying it no more. It was more like a job more than just going out there having fun playing the game. I never want to lose the love. Once you lose love of something and you make it into a job then …”
“Like, for me, when I was coming in I was like “If I miss a shot, I'm going to miss this shot in Game 6 of the Finals,'” he said. “‘If we don't play defense this game, we're not going to play defense in the Finals.' Like, I was thinking like that. And I was going home and I would get so mad over small stuff. That's not me. So I was losing myself over what people thought, what other people thought.”
Durant masked his inner struggles with a sensational season. He became only the sixth player in NBA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line and 90 percent from the free throw line. Larry Bird was the only other player to compile those shooting percentages while averaging at least 28 points.
But it wasn't enough, and Durant knew it.
“Lately, guys that are main guys on the team, the world beats them down for not winning a championship, or not coming through for your team every time,” Durant said, pounding his fist into an open palm. “The world beats you down for that type of stuff. And I was letting that get into my mind, listening to what other people say. It was really taking control of my life basically, because I was letting it seep into my personal relationships, just everything. And now, I'm playing free and having fun with the game and just letting it all hang out.”
For now, Durant seems at peace. But when the real games resume Wednesday so will the expectations … and the pressure … and the questions.
Two years ago, the Thunder was the darlings of the league. Today, because it traded James Harden, because it lost Kevin Martin, because it didn't replace Martin and because it is now without Westbrook to start the year, the Thunder has as many doubters as ever when it comes to the team's championship potential.
Durant doesn't care.
“I want to be just totally transparent and honest,” he said. “I don't care about nobody else. I want to use some words but I can't use them right now. But so what?
“I'm not worried about nobody else. I'm not going to lose sleep over nobody that's not in my personal circle or in this (organization's) circle. I'm not losing sleep over nobody.”
“Nobody on the other team, what they got to say about my opinions or anything, I'm not losing sleep over none of that,” Durant said. “Because I'm enjoying myself playing this game. I'm blessed to just be in this league. You can bash me. You can bash our team. So what? I mean, at the end of the day, I'm still doing something I love every single day, and I'm fighting for something bigger than myself. And that's a great feeling.”