The NBA has taken a lot of hits lately.
Donald Sterling and his just-as-shitty, soon-to-be-ex wife Shelly have made sure the league has been in the press for all the wrong reasons (and these pieces by yours truly aren't helping). It's pretty depressing, especially given the fact that one of the best playoffs we've had in years is currently unfolding before our very eyes; no matter the outcome of this round, we're looking at some amazing Finals storylines.
But what swam even further under the public conscience's radar was Kevin Durant, the man who was "tired of being second", winning his first regular season MVP award and giving a speech that will remind any sports fan what hooked them in the first place.
Unfortunately, it goes on for about 26 minutes and we all have the attention span of fruit flies, so I've highlighted the best bits of the speech.
All hail Durant, the best NBA player to not have even a decent nickname after 7 freaking years in the league.
"First off, I’d like to thank God for changing my life. It let me realize what life is really all about. Basketball is just a platform in order for me to inspire people and I realize that. I come from a small county outside of Washington D.C. called PG County. Me, my mom, my brother – we moved so many different places growing up. It felt like a box. It felt like there was no getting out. My dream was to become a rec league coach. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to stay home and help the kids out and be a coach. I love basketball so much and I love playing it. I just never thought I would make it to college, the NBA or stand up here today in front of you guy and be the NBA MVP. It’s just a surreal feeling." at 0:58
Ok so we got the God thing out of the way, and I'm sure this actually is pretty for surreal for KD, but the real takeaway from this introduction is the concept of Durant as a rec league coach. Would he be any good? Would he be able to instill double screen pick-and-rolls with middle-schoolers?
"I fell so many times and got back up. I been through the toughest times with my family, but I’m still standing." (at 2:35)
One thing that's impossible to mention when "telling the story of Durant" is his familiarity with falling just short of victory on the basketball court, but this first revealing moment was a lovely tip of the iceberg for the bigger-than-basketball moments that this speech eventually takes on.
"When I walked into the gym, I fell in love with the game. I didn’t fall in love with it just because it was me playing. I fell in love with it because I’ve got guys like this – like these guys every single day that push me to be the best that I can be." (at 3:01)
Remember the Michael Jordan Hall of Fame acceptance speech? This is the opposite of that. Durant took the time to name check every player on the roster, even "who is that guy?" rookie-acquired-via-trade Grant Jerrett.
Perk [Kendrick Perkins], from the minute you got here…I hated you before you got here...But the moment you got here, man, you just changed my whole perception of you. Just one of the best teammates I ever had. I just thank you so much. The late night calls after tough games, you texting me, telling me I’m the MVP. That means a lot to me, man. Thank you. (at 5:01)
Does Durant breaking down during this part officially make up for the fact that Perkins is an absolute liability against the new breed of NBA offenses? Well, not really. But it does validate his place on this team. Also, what a great "Durant's got a funny bone" dig he snuck in there!
Sorry. I’m going to keep going.
Nick [Collison], you know, the first guy I met when I first got to Seattle as an 18 year old. You took me in. You believed in me from the beginning. You knew that I had potential. Every single day, I know I can look at you and know that you respect me as a man, as a player and you’re going to ride with me to the end. And I thank you. (at 5:45)
Isn't this kind of how we all feel about Durant? He's on his 7th season in the league and even as he went on his mid-season shooting spree and we had to learn to not just respect but fear him, wasn't there still this feeling that we were rooting for the lanky 18-year old that never made it past the Sweet Sixteen?
And maybe more importantly, was this the highlight of Nick Collison's career?
Caron [Butler], even though you just got here a few months ago we’ve grown so close over these last few weeks and I can remember when you first got here you wrote a piece of paper in my locker … I don’t know why I’m crying so much, man … you wrote a piece of paper in my locker and it said, “KD MVP.” And that was after we lost two or three straight. I don’t really say much in those moments, but I remember that. I go home and I think about that stuff, man. When you got people behind you, you can do whatever. I thank you, man. I appreciate you. (at 7:11)
We constantly like to inject what we assume what must be going on in Durant's head, whether that be his feelings about Russell Westbrook, Scottie Brooks, LeBron, basketball in general, whatever. But these quick few sentences, this brief glimpse into what makes Durant tick and how he processes the world around him, these are worth a hundred coy interviews and the thousand thought-pieces that follow each one.
When Russell was out, you stepped your game up for me, for the team. There were nights where you made me look way better than I am. You clean up so many of our mistakes, man, and we appreciate that. From everybody on the team, we appreciate that, man, and I thank you so much for giving me confidence when I didn’t have it, for always being there when I wanted to talk to you, when I wanted to call, for arguing with me all the time, making me better, and realizing I’m not always right. Thank you, man. I appreciate you. (at 8:36)
"Thank you for...arguing with me all the time, making me better, and realizing I'm not always right."
You guys make me so much better without even knowing, man, because I know I set an example for y’all. I know there are days where I have my bad days. I say some words I’m not supposed to say sometimes, but when I need an extra push, you guys are there, man. I appreciate that. I appreciate that because I’m not always the best leader. I’m not always the best player. I don’t always shoot the best in the games. But our little handshakes we do before games, that gets me going. (at 9:38)
Kevin Durant is 25-years old and he has the self-awareness of an old stand-up.
Reggie [Jackson] when I first met you, you didn’t say two words to me. I didn’t know who you were, but we instantly clicked. You became one of my best friends, man. Words can’t explain how much I care about you, your well-being, how you’re feeling; not even just basketball, but off the court, making sure you’re alright. You’re such a humble person, man. You do everything for the team. You always put yourself last and I learn a lot from you. Thank you, man. Thank you. (at 10:56)
Are you kidding me? "I care about you, your well-being, how you're feeling; not even just basketball, but off the court."
Who talks like this anymore?!
Even HR staff's at Lululemon aren't this lovey-dovey, but there's Durant laying it all out on the line for his backup point guard!
"I know you guys think I forgot Russ, but I can speak all night about Russell. An emotional guy who will run through a wall for me. I don't take it for granted. There's days where I want to just talk with you and tell you to snap out of it sometimes, but I know there's days where you want to do the same thing with me. I love you, man. I love you. A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player, and I'm the first to have your back, through it all. Just stay the person you are, everybody loves you here. I love you. I thank you so much, man. You made me better. Your work ethic, I always wanted to compete with you. I always wanted to pull up to the parking lot of the arena or practice facility, I always wanted to outwork you. You set the bar, you set the tone. Thank you so much, man. You got a big piece of this, you're an MVP-caliber player. It's a blessing to play with you, man." (at 13:17)
As Bill Simmons wrote for Grantland, "So much for trading Russell Westbrook. I have been following sports for something like 40 years — I can’t remember a teammate sticking up for another teammate better than that. Not ever. The point was made. Russ is my brother. We are in this together for better and worse. And just like that, we went from thinking They’re trading Westbrook if they don’t win the title soon to They’re never, ever, EVER trading Westbrook."
"Mr. Bennett, for just giving me this opportunity. I thank you for always being there for me when I need you. Every time I see you under the basket for a game, I feel confident. No matter how the game is going, I look at you - I say, if our owner's behind us, we can do it all. I thank you so much for giving me this opportunity." (at 15:28)
I just wanted to throw in the moment where an NBA player thanked the owner of the team he played for. I'm telling you, everything was right in the world that night.
"Coaching staff: I know there's days you look at that film and you want to kill me. I'm not playing defense, taking bad shots, getting too many techs. But you always believe that I can be the guy. Through the tough times, you guys never left my side....That's something that I really appreciate and I never want to take you guys for granted. I thank you so much for being part of my life. And not just on the basketball court, but giving me talks about growing as a man first, and a basketball player next." (at 18:12)
And if you thought this was tugging on some heart-strings, wait until he gets to his mother...
"We disappoint you guys sometimes, but we try our best every single night to win for you guys. We want to win a championship for you guys. The city, all they want us to be is ourselves. You love us how we are. We're all a work in progress as men, and you still love us and I thank you so much for embracing us." (at 20:17)
See: Rudyard Kipling's "If"
14. (and this one is worth embedding)
"And last, my mom. I don't think you know what you did. You had my brother when you were 18 years old. Three years later, I came out. The odds were stacked against us. Single parent with two boys by the time you were 21 years old. Everybody told us we weren't supposed to be there. We moved from apartment to apartment, by ourselves. One of the best memories I had is when we moved into our first apartment - no bed, no furniture, and we just all sat in the living room and just hugged each other. We thought we made it. When something good happens to you - I don't know about you guys, but I tend to look back to what brought me here. You waking me up in the middle of the night in the summertime, making me run up a hill. Making me do pushups. Screaming at me from the sideline at my games at 8 or 9 years old. We weren't supposed to be here. You made us believe, you kept us off the street. You put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn't eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You're the real MVP."
God I hope he beats LeBron.