Kevin Durant’s face turned hard and his eyes welled up. He gazed straight ahead as he reflected on the man he affectionately referred to as "Big Chucky.” Charles Craig was supposed to be by Durant’s side — when he signed his letter of intent to Texas, continuing the basketball jones Craig first created, and when he sat in the Green Room on the night of the 2007 NBA Draft, eagerly counting down the final moments before he fulfilled his dream as the No. 2 overall pick. "It just didn’t happen,” murmured a melancholy Durant last week. Craig was Durant’s first basketball coach. He died on April 30, 2005, in Laurel, Md., the victim of multiple gunshot wounds. He was 35. Since his freshman season at the University of Texas, Durant has worn jersey No. 35 in honor of Chucky. "I just want as many people as I can to know why I wear it and the significance of the number,” Durant said. "That’s my goal is to get him out there and keep his name alive.” Durant is forcing fans to take notice, as he continues to flourish into one of the game’s greats. The third-year forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder is the league’s leading scorer at 29.7 points per game. His 29 straight games of 25 points or more commanded daily headlines from mid-December to late February. Since 1986-87, only Michael Jordan has had a longer streak. And Durant, a first-time All-Star last month, has his team on an improbable pace to make the playoffs following last season’s 23 wins. As Durant sat courtside following a recent shoot-around, he mulled over his milestones, how far he’s come and the man who initiated it all. Durant’s speech slowed. His eyes began to mist. "It’s a touchy subject for me, but I do it for him,” he said. Durant met Craig as an 8-year-old newcomer to the Seat Pleasant Recreational Center, a one-level, multi-purpose building sitting in the Maryland suburbs that neighbor Washington, D.C. The want-to-be player instantly took a liking to the heavyset but jovial coach. Durant learned the game’s basics from Craig, and hours in the gym soon fostered a relationship beyond basketball. "It was days where I spent the whole day with him,” Durant remembered. They’d go to basketball games and to the movies. When Durant needed pocket money or a meal, Craig was there. Durant, now a multi-millionaire, drives a conversion van partly because of fond memories of piling into Craig’s van with teammates and traveling to games. On one such trip, Durant’s youth league team journeyed to Charlotte, N.C. With Durant’s mother, Wanda Pratt, tied down with work, Durant slept over at Craig’s house the night before the team departed. The hospitality went a long way in Durant’s eyes. Craig was the type of neighborhood coach who kicked in his own money to make up the difference for kids unable to cover the costs of jerseys. And the full-figured man with the braided hair always was positive. As one parent described Craig in the Maryland Gazette following his death, "He made every child feel like a star...He was the only coach I know that made you feel great even when you lost a game.” Durant’s skills and reputation grew, but his loyalty to Craig never wavered. Despite evolving into a can’t-miss high school prospect, Durant always returned to Seat Pleasant to play for Coach Craig. Until he didn’t. When Durant got wind of the news of Craig’s death, he was a junior at prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in southwestern Virginia. Durant went into a state of shock. "I didn’t know what to think,” Durant said. "I thought it was a joke.” Durant still isn’t clear on what exactly happened. As Durant heard it, Craig was outside an apartment complex shooting the breeze with friends when an altercation broke out. The chaos subsided, but hours later, gunfire rang out. Craig, dressed in a yellow shirt, was easily spotted and assumed to be a participant in the earlier dispute. According to Prince George’s County Police Department records, officers responded to the 12600 block of Laurel-Bowie Road at approximately 3 a.m. at the sound of gunfire. Upon arrival, the police found the yellow-shirted victim in the parking lot. He was transported to a local hospital and pronounced dead. Charles Craig had been shot multiple times in the upper body, according to police records. "He’s a person that died for no reason,” Durant said. Records show that the PG County Police charged Terrell Bush, then a 24-year-old Laurel, Md., resident, with first-degree murder. Nearly five years later, Durant’s No. 35 jersey that honors Craig has become the NBA’s 15th best selling jersey, ahead of fellow All-Stars Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh and Deron Williams. More and more, fans in visiting cities attend Thunder games sporting Durant’s jersey. Every so often, Durant glances into the stands and becomes filled with joy at the sight. "Without them knowing, they’ve got a piece of Chuck on,” Durant said. The University of Texas last year retired Durant’s No. 35 jersey, hanging it in the rafters alongside only two other former Longhorns. Durant even initiated a movement to get players from his hometown to honor Craig in the same fashion. His brother, Tony, wore No. 35 for Towson last season. Chris Braswell, a freshman at UNC-Charlotte, wears 35 for the same reason. Braswell’s official bio lists Craig as his deceased father, but Durant said Braswell was so close to Craig that the coach was "like his dad.” Dwight Bell, a junior at Shaw University in North Carolina, wore No. 35 at Gloucester County Community College in Sewell, N.J., before transferring to Shaw only to see the number already taken. "It feels good to see a lot of 35s from the people I know,” Durant said. "It shows that every time we step between the lines, where he taught us how to be tough, how to go out there and play with passion and play with heart, even though he’s up there he’s living his dreams through us on the basketball court.” In a day in age where stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James (who will wear No. 6 next season) change numbers primarily for marketing purposes, Durant proudly wears his No. 35 for the most genuine of reasons. "If he would have died when he was 47 years old, I would have switched my number to 47,” Durant assured. "It’s all about doing it for somebody I love. It’s not about what’s the better number and what looks better on me. It’s all about him. "He was just a caring and loving person that everybody would love to meet. Every time I step on that floor, I do it to win games and make him proud.” Text "OKTHUNDER” to 65360 for your chance to win an Adidas OKC Thunder Warm-Up Jersey. NewsOK OKC Thunder news text alerts sponsored by Totally Tickets.