Kobe Bryant and LeBron James aren't doing that.
“I like to see people smiling,” Durant said. “So I do whatever it takes.”
‘It didn't have to be you'
Durant's parents, Wayne and Wanda Pratt, instilled a sense of humility. Wanda Pratt has often told her youngest son, “It didn't have to be you,” a quote that has stuck with Durant.
“That's as simple as it can get,” Durant said. “But it taught me that it could be the guy living across the street that's in my shoes. I was blessed to be a guy that's been chosen to do something. I've been put on this earth to do something that I love and I can't take that for granted.”
Wayne Pratt often preached about having a small window to make a difference and impact lives. Each time Durant stops and shakes a hand or poses for a picture, that's what he's trying to do, knowing full well how much it means to so many to be able to meet an NBA player.
“He understands that it's a blessing. Everything that's given to you is a blessing,” said Wayne Pratt. “At the end of the day basketball is just a game. And you still have to be a person after that.”
That's why, after a 40-point performance, Durant still extends a handshake and a cordial “good night” to each male police officer and usher standing outside the Thunder's locker room. He might pull female officers and ushers in for a hug. Most all of them, Durant addresses by name. It's why during the game, Durant generally hands ball boys his sweats and towels just before he checks back in. Other players are notorious for dropping their warm-ups on the floor and making the ball boys pick them up, or, worse, throwing the gear at them. It's why Durant has a nightly routine for signing autographs at home games: robotically warming up early, then relaxing on the bench briefly before walking over to a crowd of fans who eagerly line up near the Thunder's tunnel behind the bench when the doors open an hour and a half before tipoff.
“They make time for us,” Durant said of the team's supporters. “They don't have to go out of their way to drive to the game. They don't have to go out of their way to buy our jerseys, buy tickets, come scream and support us every game. They can save their money. But they chose to come watch us play. So that's the least I can do, just showing them that I appreciate them.”
‘He hasn't changed'
Durant has signed sneakers and personally shipped them to fans who follow him on Twitter. He'll show up at local malls throughout the country and, rather than have security shoo fans away, he'll post a message on his Twitter account encouraging more fans to join him while he shops. Then he'll buy them shoes.
Teammate Russell Westbrook has been wowed by how Durant, no matter what time the team bus pulls in, routinely signs autographs for lines of fans waiting outside the team hotel in visiting cities.
“He's as humble as anybody as I've ever been around,” Brooks said.
Following a game just after Christmas, Durant pulled a necklace over his head. One teammate apparently deemed it unfashionable and unsuitable inside the superficial sanctuary that is an NBA locker room. As the teammate started to make a crack, Durant's face turned stone cold. He told the teammate his mother had given him the neckwear as a Christmas gift. Durant then asked the teammate if he had anything else to say. The teammate didn't. He backed down and backpedaled out of the locker room.
The scene was subtle but served as perhaps the closest the tightly-knitted Thunder locker room has come this season to having tension between players while reporters were present. And it showed the respect Durant commands from his teammates and, more importantly, the honor he reserves for his family, especially his mother.
Durant has given media members the same respect.
Durant politely pauses his music and removes his headphones whenever approached by reporters as he sits at his locker before games. Might not sound like much. But in today's NBA, many players have personal policies to not address the media before tipoff. Ears covered with headphones have become the leaguewide signal for “bug off.” Durant, though, will speak, even if he fulfilled requests by the same reporters at the team's morning shootaround. He'll slide off his headphones again if a straggler enters the locker room late.
“It's something that's just second nature to me,” Durant said of his compassion. “I don't plan it. It just happens.”
“He hasn't changed. That is the most impressive thing,” Brooks said. “In this league, players that have had success at the rate that he has, most of them have changed. Most of them forget what they've done to get there. Kevin has not changed one bit. And that's a credit to him and his family.”