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Oklahoma City Thunder: Why Kevin Durant could be the most likable athlete in professional sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder star has become a household name, a player whose appeal transcends age, race and gender. It's something few sports stars have been able to do and perhaps something not seen since Michael Jordan.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: February 15, 2014
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photo - Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant speaks during the NBA All Star basketball news conference, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in New Orleans. The 63rd annual NBA All Star game will be played Sunday in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant speaks during the NBA All Star basketball news conference, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in New Orleans. The 63rd annual NBA All Star game will be played Sunday in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Durant committed himself to those things long before he entered the league. But he began garnering more attention for how he conducted himself only as he matured from the soft-spoken teenager who was drafted second overall in 2007.

His superb talents aside, Durant's clean-cut image was the first thing that drew in casual fans. He has no piercings or visible tattoos. In fact, one of Durant's few blemishes didn't come until he was four seasons in. It happened when the world learned Durant had marked up his torso and back with ink. The only other stain has been Internet pictures of Durant sitting down inside Hookah lounges, puffing flavored tobacco.

But there might not have been a person on the planet who couldn't relate to Durant's devotion for his family, seen when he routinely concluded games early in his career by kissing his mother before walking off the court.

“He comes across as pretty wholesome,” said TNT NBA analyst Steve Kerr. “He's never in the news for anything negative. And yet … he still has a little bit of an edge, which I think people love, too. Just the competitiveness. You can see what a great guy he is, but you can see also how badly he wants to win.”

Durant made hearts melt in 2011 when he dejectedly whispered into a microphone “I let the city down” following a painful Game 5 home loss to Dallas in the Western Conference Finals. His emotional news conference sparked an outpouring of support while revealing a star who was not self-centered but contrite.

The day before James announced his decision to sign with Miami in a live television special, Durant quietly announced his five-year extension with the Thunder via Twitter. It illustrated Durant's humbleness and earned him even more respect.

The list goes on and on.

He told Sports Illustrated before the 2011 season that he wouldn't pose for the magazine's cover unless Thabo Sefolosha and then-Thunder center Nenad Krstic, two lesser-known teammates, appeared with him.

He privately donated $1 million to Moore following the devastating tornadoes last May. Then he toured the area, offering hugs, handshakes and whatever else he could to uplift a torn city.

He toted the Bible to games and postseason news conferences.

And he credited God for his sizzling streak in January during a live postgame interview on national television.

“What I like about him is his likability is not forced,” said TNT analyst Shaquille O'Neal. “You see a lot of guys (acting for the cameras) and it's forced. But he's natural.”

Durant downplays his likability, deflecting the attention back to his team like he always does.

“When they call our names, they cheer for everybody on our team,” Durant said. “So I would say our team is likable more so than just myself.”

Durant, after seven years, still hasn't given people much reason to not like him. That has as much to do with his likability as anything.

He's done plenty right but more importantly has strayed away from wrong.

“I think he does a good job of just being Kevin. And I don't think that will change,” said Brooks. “I've been around him seven years and he hasn't changed from just being Kevin.”

by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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