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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)

— Could the most likable athlete in professional sports be playing in our backyard?

Kevin Durant, in his seventh NBA season, has quickly made a case for that title.

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.

Durant has endeared himself to the masses by being grounded, generous and, of course, great. And he's kept a stranglehold on hearts through his unrivaled humility.

“He's as authentic as anybody,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “What you see is what you get, and what you see is an amazing, amazing person.”

Durant enters his fifth consecutive NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night in the midst of his most sensational season yet, a year that could soon be capped with Durant taking home his first league Most Valuable Player award.

In a marvelous month of January, Durant averaged 35.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.1 assists. He captured the collective attention of the sports world when he turned the league into his personal playground by scoring 30 or more points in 12 straight games, something that hadn't been done in more than a decade. Durant pumped in a career-high 54 points on Jan. 17 and registered more 40-point games in the month (five) than anyone else has produced all season.

When the Thunder comes out of this All-Star Weekend, it will carry a four-game lead over second-place San Antonio in the NBA's Western Conference, largely thanks to Durant.

But unlike other athletes who have ascended to this level of greatness, Durant's appeal hasn't diminished because of his dominance. The jealousy, envy and animosity that great players often receive have yet to land on Durant's doorstep.

They may never.

He's dodged detractors and risen above backlash.

And he's becoming more popular with each made basket.

Over the past year, Durant's awareness among the general public has grown from 29 percent of all Americans to 34 percent of all Americans, according to Henry Schafer, executive vice president for The Q Scores Company. By comparison, Spurs center Tim Duncan, a 16-year veteran, 14-time All-Star and four-time champion is at 33 percent.

“He's probably underutilized as a sports salesman,” Schafer said of Durant.

Meanwhile, Durant's Q Score rating, which measures familiarity and appeal, is 20. The average NBA player is 15. Miami Heat star LeBron James has a 17 Q Score.

“If Durant stays on the track he's on,” Schafer said, “he can start approaching the watermark of Michael Jordan, which is 25 (Q rating) and 79 percent (awareness).”

James, unquestionably the game's biggest darling before famously botching his free agency announcement in 2010, said holding such status comes with a certain level of pressure to maintain that reputation.

“But when you be yourself then it's easy,” James said.

James added Durant is doing all the right things.

“I just think the way he plays the game and his demeanor,” James explained when asked what makes Durant so liked. “He's a guy that never gets in trouble and plays the game the right way. And that's what it's about.”

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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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