Four years ago, TNT’s Kenny Smith said, “Kevin Durant will be the best player in the NBA.” Hall of Famer Charles Barkley asked him to repeat the statement and Smith did precisely that, boldly pointing to the camera. Earlier in the week, Durant won his first MVP trophy after a leading the NBA in scoring, the fourth time in five seasons. During his widely viewed speech that transcended the game of basketball and is observed as one of the most dynamic moments by an athlete, Durant replaces self-congratulation with humility, tears and adoration.
Foremost, he never spoke about basketball at the press conference. When KD mentioned his teammates from the last guy on the bench Hasheem Thabeet to newbie OKC Thunder teammate veteran Caron Butler, he talked about what they have done for him and how they have helped him grow as an individual. This in turn aided his development to a megastar basketball player. Butler had just arrived from Milwaukee and on the first day, placed a note in KD’s locker room that read ‘MVP’. The small gesture brought both Durant and Butler to tears as Durant explained, “It really just meant a lot to me.”
As he continued through his speech, KD mentions every player on the OKC roster and how he has influenced his career. It is a very telling moment from a world-renown yet humble athlete. Durant is constantly compared to Miami Heat’s LeBron James and all-time great Michael Jordan. When James jumped ship from Cleveland to South Beach, there was ‘The Decision’ broadcast on ESPN that documented James’ free agency. There was the party that ensued where Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade and James entered the arena as fans serenading them with cheers. This was followed by a loss (and a crying Bosh) in the NBA Finals to the Dirk Nowitzki-led Dallas Mavericks. During James’ MVP seasons, he is quick to thank Bosh and Wade but does not mention the complete roster. Jordan won the MVP five times and had help from fellow Hall of Famers Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen. It would be hard to imagine Jordan thanking guys like Luc Longley, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc and others.
But KD had a personal story for each teammate. He also attributed the award to fellow MVP-caliber point guard Russell Westbrook. KD continued thanking the coaching staff and all the trainers. He singled out coach Scott Brooks as a person “who never takes credit but does all of it.” He thanked GM Sam Presti as “we are thankful to have you in our community.” He even singled out owner Clayton Bennett as “Mr. Bennett, every time I see you under the basket for a game, I feel confident that we can win.” He said ‘thank you’ and ‘I love you’ to everyone over and over again, something that is hardly expected from an MVP speech.
Basketball is just a platform to inspire and with Mother’s Day pending, KD saved his greatest thanks for his mother. “You kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on the table,” he said to his teary-eyed mother. “When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.”
It was a captivating moment that drew a raucous, standing-ovation from the entire OKC organization. Durant was seen as a person, not a basketball player. His teammates and their accomplishments on the court became secondary to them as people and the big hearts they have off the court. It is a rare occasion when fans are blessed to see who players outside the game. During his MVP speech, we witnessed KD’s most clutch basket he’ll ever make in his NBA career. Great speech!