Kevin Durant, you can’t help but look up to him. Even when he’s seated on the couch, clad in a faded Pearl Jam tee, feet in Size 17 shoes perched atop the low table, a picture of laidback, approaching jet-lag zone, you can tell he’ll tower over you.
At the end of the free-flowing chat as our Guest Sports Editor mere hours after landing in the Capital, when he stood up to shake our hands, we saw for a moment what the rest of the NBA felt about this champion Golden State Warrior. Here was a giant of his sport, but at the core of this global superstar —- the MVP of a watershed NBA season —- there resides simply a gentle, soft-spoken mamma’s boy. And Durant won’t have it any other way.
Excerpts from an exclusive “one-on-one”…
This is your first visit to India, and you’ve hardly been here a few hours. Your first impressions…
At the airport, we saw so many people. There was so much movement, there’s so much life on the streets here. So much energy when you walk. It looked pretty cool. Back home where I live, a lot of times it’s quiet, slow paced. Here, it’s so big. It’s good to be here. I’m excited, even though it’s my first night here and I haven’t really experienced much.
Did you have to duck a lot walking down the lobby to your room here?
(Laughs) Yeah, I had to a duck low a lot differently than I usually do. But I am excited to have the opportunity to be at a place where I’ve never been, one, and help the game of basketball grow up here as well.
(Smiles) No, not really, I mean, most of the time I have seen people around me who have seen and experienced life much more than I have. So, sometimes I feel small to see people who have seen much more than me. I’m definitely trying to learn more and see different things and this is a step for me so I’m excited.You’ve always stressed your mother Wanda has been a huge influence on your life and your development as an individual…
It’s just Mamma being Mamma – supporting, loving me, criticizing and disciplining me. You just never forget that type of stuff just as in my bigger stage in my profession, you remember all those teachings and it gets back to you. Where I am as you know, it teaches you and then comes back to you. Definitely, it’s the time to celebrate her. Lot of mothers are sacrificing for their sons, daughters and kids.
I am just using my platform to show my mamma appreciates me in different ways. Other moms do all the things that every mamma does but go unnoticed unlike my mom, and I get the opportunity to celebrate her.
There’s this perception of you being too much of a nice guy on court. How tough is that in this competitive world?
It’s not difficult to be nice (in this competitive world). Just keep the core values. I have my days, my thoughts, and stuff that gets me upset. It is part of being a competitor. A person who plays at the highest level, it brings the best out of you but the most part, sticking to the system – at what I do, who I am and continuing to keep growing. But for the most part, just embracing what the competitive nature brings out of you. You just continue to move forward and learning from every experience, I guess.
Yeah, they do that on court and the results are a little more concrete. When you are playing basketball, you either have high emotions or not, you are either hard or not, you are either unselfish or selfish. So it feels like in basketball, it is a little more black and white. So there’s a lot of trash talking really going out there if you don’t play well. So I just try to stick to playing well, being consistent every time I step out there. Whatever is said out there, I just react.How much of a team sport is basketball? Like you said, you have to be selfish out there somewhere? Where do you draw the balance between being selfish and being a team-man? It’s a high-stakes, big-money sport after all.
It is very difficult because it is all about yourself as a kid – how you grow up and how you are taught the game. As kids learning basketball, we are taught skills on a one-on-one basis, there is no team anywhere. What you are taught and what you learn, all the skills are actually imparted individually. I understand, why it’s all about you then… but you study the game and realize the team concept and how you can add that to the team.. I think that’s the coolest thing about being a basketball player because mentally, you have to check out for yourselves some time, and sometimes check out from the group’s point of view. Sometimes, to rally yourselves and as you said, it’s kind of like a game you gotta play, and for the most time, find the balance between who you are and having your plan up to your expectations but also sacrificing yourself for the team…as you grow older, you learn more and more about it.
How does it feel to be a member of the most loved and most hated team of the NBA – the Golden State Warriors?
As a basketball player, there are days when you need another challenge sometimes on the top of which you already have. Go out there and all of us just want to prove everybody wrong. We want to go out there and show who we are as a team. We have so many great fans around the world who enjoy watching us play and the reason why they enjoy it is because we play basketball the way it is supposed to be played. We talk about individuals but we also have a lot of great individuals who also know what it is to be a team. And there are a lot of teams like that and a lot of players like that should be praised, but being that type of team makes the hate even more fun. And it’s not just one guy, it’s the whole team. We are playing in a league where it’s always been all about one or two guys, and to change that concept of basketball to a team sport, the way we play and be hated on top of that feels like we get the best of both worlds. Not just in the game but being the most memorable off the court as well.
It’s interesting that you mention ‘Hate’. That in a sporting sense drives a team, but in the real world, it’s a word being felt a great deal these days. There’s a feeling that African-American sportsmen need to be more visible as ambassadors which is not happening. They need to stand up more as role models, socially…
I think it’s happening. I think there are a lot of guys who stepped up and spoke about things they believe in, you know, especially stuff going on in our neighbourhoods, with law enforcement and surveillance. A lot of our players in our professional sports especially, bigger sports in our country, have spoken out about social issues, not just in our country but around the world. And a lot of guys are taking initiative to travel around the world, getting in front of people, and talking about it and trying to help as well. It’s all about conversation, you know. When you get guys that are so high up in their profession and you’ve got so many eyes on them, it’s hard for them to take their focus off what they are doing because they’ve got these blinders on, so. But when something like that comes up, a social issue, now especially with social media and more access to these high-profile entertainers, it just feels like now they have started to take these blinders off. And you realize that you can still stay focused on your goal and also know that it’s a different type of responsibility that you have out there, sometimes have a voice, talking up for other people and playing your part. But it’s also balance between knowing that you are human too, and knowing that you still have to learn and grow. A lot of our guys have definitely spoken out and I think there will be more voices in the future.
Do you think hate is growing in the United States right now?
I won’t say it’s hate, I feel like there’s a lot of pain in people and they need their voices to be heard. I won’t necessarily call it hate because hate… (pauses and laughs) has always been going on. I just feel it’s now new, that word is not new. Hate is not new in our country. You see it, you’ve seen it years and years in the past all the stuff that’s been going on, which is just fused to different groups (while) growing up. You know what I’m saying, I think that’s more so hate than somebody saying, ‘Oh, you’re no good at your game’, or telling a musician, ‘I don’t like your record album’. I think that’s personal opinion. I think there’s a lot of hate between different sides when we should be talking of coming to a middle ground. There I think is hate.
Coming back to the NBA Finals, you surprised many with a very high level defensive play.
At Golden State Warriors, with the kind of offence we have, you get the opportunity to showcase your full potential as a player, and you make the most of it. I didn’t need to have the ball in my hands, in my possession all the time. It was okay for us to generate good shots and good points, so it allowed me to focus defensively and using my energy on that side of the ball. Sometimes I may not shoot as much because I am chasing a guy around, or I may get a little low on gas sometimes. I don’t have to dribble more than 10 times in my possession, I am (doing) good, I can pass the ball and save my energy and be equally energized on both ends of the floor. I have always felt I was a good defender but I just had to make sure I can focus on possession sometimes, focus on offence sometimes, maybe I can go back and forth. It makes me more engaged. I learnt a lot about myself and about team defence and what it takes to win.
How do you de-stress, or unwind after an intense game?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I heard about that. But honest, I know nothing about the game, its rules and the plays. But I’ve been told these guys (looking at the report of the Galle Test in Times Sport and pointing to the Indian cricketers) can’t go out on their own. I know, they’d get mobbed the moment they step out on their own.