Kevin Durant loves basketball. He would marry the entire concept if he could. Listen to Kevin Durant speak for a few minutes and he will, most likely, bring up “The Game” and his devotion to it.
A self-described basketball “purist,” Kevin Durant is concerned with little more than playing the right way, winning, and growing The Game for himself, his colleagues, and all future torchbearers. He’s a craftsman, and he labors every day. Coming of age in and around Washington, D.C., basketball became Kevin’s outlet creatively, socially, and emotionally. Quickly, The Game became all he needed to care about once he understood he could make a career of it. Durant’s explained that thinking critically about things like racism, systemic oppression, and politics never really occurred to him as a black kid growing up in D.C.: “[social issues] didn’t really apply to me because I could put a ball in a basket.” He’s been chronically focused on basketball for the majority of his life–so much so that it wasn’t until he moved to the Bay Area, at age 27, that he’d begin to consider his identity as an American and, more broadly, his role in the world. Up until that point, Kevin had preferred to deconstruct and sort out the things he could control: “I try to simplify as much as I can. I think that makes my life easier.”Apple-converted-space”>
Life ain’t simple. Kevin’s infamous free agency decision coincided with a personal wakeup. He sees now that not everything can be micromanaged. But for KD, the nexus of his life–The Game of Basketball–doesn’t need to be complicated at all. To the chagrin of some, he’s been known to take issue when it is.
In late March, Kevin Durant appeared on The Bill Simmons Podcast for the fifth time in just over a year. In this two-part edition, Kevin is more candid than ever. It’s evidence of his personal evolution–likely facilitated by a few glasses of red wine.
Kevin Durant has, unofficially, made Bill Simmons his press secretary. Conversations between the unlikely partners have yielded many a headline since February 2017, and this won’t change until the polarizing Durant puts a stopper on his honesty and becomes boring to the public again. There’s no evidence that this will happen any time soon; KD is more confident about speaking his truths than ever before. But some Durant critics are insatiable, and as long as they can pick out something to ridicule, they’ll happily let Kevin speak. They wasted no time in getting up-in-arms this time around, but their point of contention was ironic, predictable, and pretty metaphysical.
The podcast, before long, assumed a structure based on contrast: much of the conversation would be spent rationalizing how Kevin understands basketball and the NBA while holding a microscope to how “blog boys” understand basketball and the NBA. While he never provides a dictionary definition of “blog boys,” Kevin indicates that it’s an umbrella term: online trolls, NBA Twitter, sportswriters, talking heads, play-by-play announcers, and Bill Simmons himself all catch heat at some point. In essence, Kevin can’t take seriously anyone who commentates on basketball without basketball experience. He even hesitates to compliment the NBA on TNT Players Only regulars—Isiah Thomas, Chris Webber, and Baron Davis included—because they’re essentially imitating regular broadcasters. Whether or not Durant’s frustrations are valid, there’s little point indicting him. He genuinely loves basketball, and is immensely thankful for how it’s transformed his life; Durant is entitled to be critical of the goings-on around his craft.
— nick wright (@getnickwright) March 30, 2018
The blog boys to whom Kevin unaffectionately refers throughout would, inevitably, be scandalized by becoming the controversy when KD issued them a public service announcement: “Watch a basketball game. Enjoy The Game. Stop worrying about me so much.” It doesn’t sound or look controversial, but he’d already written the headline by the time he predicted, “all these guys are gonna write articles and get real mad about what I say tonight.” Kevin acknowledges that his proclivity for honesty is like a carcass to be scavenged by the bored “culture vultures” who rib him for his devotion to authenticity, citing his insecurity and sensitivity. Kevin Durant wears a target on his back, proudly. It’s of his own doing. But the longer he and the blog boys engage in their grudge match, the more pointless it all gets. The occasional obnoxiousness of both sides takes away from the privilege of a candid superstar.
In the context of his PSA, KD suggests that blog boys are self-important online personalities too lazy to watch basketball games, relying instead on easily searchable analytics in order to form their basketball opinions. Kevin, on the contrary, adamantly does not and will not believe in analytics as a substitute for the eye test. This proud basketball purist believes in “the real stats” you can find in a box score: turnovers, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage, and opponents’ field goal percentage. No one talks about true shooting percentage or player efficiency rating during a timeout huddle or in the locker room at halftime—no one affiliated with the Golden State Warriors, at least. Fittingly, Kevin, ever the simplifier, doesn’t see the purpose of advanced metrics in basketball. Why complicate and cramp when the same old statistics will always be useful? Kevin Durant is the best player on one of the greatest teams in basketball history–he doesn’t need to qualify his opinion.
Kevin’s adoration of basketball isn’t just undying. It’s ever-strengthening. And because he cares so much about The Game, he’s almost always caught in the middle of defending its essence and succumbing to the very frills he hates about it.
Twitter is better than goin to da club…
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) May 9, 2010
The impact of social media on the NBA has been epic. All at once it has expanded league coverage internationally, facilitated and expedited the spread of basketball news and knowledge, closed the distance between celebrity and ordinary, and gifted a communicative platform to players whom we wouldn’t ordinarily hear from frequently if at all. On their own, these merits are something to behold, and the lucrative perks of it all should have the NBA league office and team owners praying thanks to Twitter and Instagram every night before bed. But as a whole, constant consumptive exposure to millions of strangers can only do so much good.
Social media is complicated, and we know by now that Kevin prefers simple. While tweets have never directly impacted the way he plays The Game, he does mention to Bill Simmons that he frequently notices a different kind of social media impact on the court: the posterization effect. When talking about KD’s role as a rim protector and reminiscing about a game against the Lakers in which Durant was dunked on three times, Simmons points out, “[social media] has made [players] less likely to challenge dunks because they don’t wanna end up on Twitter [as a meme]”. Kevin agrees. In fact, he argues, “basketball is in a bad place because of that.” Defensive basketball is, at least, but he does have a point: has the fear of being clowned by the faceless really taken priority over expending effort on defense? It seems ludicrous, but how many close games could have had different outcomes if a trailing defender chose to attempt a chase-down block on a second-quarter 2-on-1 fast break instead of conceding to the anxiety of becoming a meme? Kevin insists, “basketball is about getting embarrassed,” and I’ll supplement it with this: basketball is also about not embarrassing the likes of Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo, who made their livings on rim protection and really didn’t give a damn if they were dunked on.
KD has secret accounts that he uses to defend himself and forgot to switch to them when he was replying to this guy I'm actually speechless pic.twitter.com/9245gnpa3c
— idk (@harrisonmc15) September 18, 2017
Just months after winning his first NBA championship, Kevin Durant screwed himself over in the most millennial method possible, learning on a damning level how fickle a friendship with social media can be. In September 2017, KD was caught using at least one unverified, anonymous Twitter account, set up seemingly to communicate with fans who pose questions to the official @KDTrey5. He had accidentally sent several replies to Twitter users via his verified account instead, incriminating himself by speaking in the third person. The verified Durant had been giving reasons why he decided to not re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016, citing coach Billy Donovan and the apparently unconvincing talent around himself and former teammate Russell Westbrook. He realized his mistake too late, and a savvy Twitter user exposed him before he could delete the evidence. Durant, to his credit, didn’t try to deny anything or play the incident off as either a hack or a misstep by a member of his social team. He owned up immediately and admitted to the childishness of the situation.
Frustratingly, by this date, he’d already shrugged off a chunk of the chorus of critics that trailed his every move between July 4, 2016, and June 12, 2017. Durant validated his unpopular free agency decision by carrying the Golden State Warriors to a gentlemen’s sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers, earning his first NBA title and collecting Finals MVP accolades. With his Twitter fiasco, Durant would, all over again, render himself a punchline and a meme. The old accusations of insecurity and sensitivity waged war on his reputation, and his mental wellbeing was, somewhat inappropriately, put on blast. He was berated for not being able to move up and away from the critics by riding the champion high. Explicitly, he was being told to shut up, get over it, and enjoy. Not a far cry from “shut up and dribble.”
But at the end of the day, Kevin was really, once again, just being honest. Publicly on purpose or not, he was finally answering age-old questions about his choice to leave behind an 8-year relationship with Westbrook and move on from the southern city that raised him. He made basketball-related decisions to join the Warriors, and he’s insisted on this from the beginning—but the accidental, untimely airing-out of his grievances with OKC created more tension between him and the NBA universe.
Kevin learned. Nowadays, he updates his Instagram story sometimes and uses Twitter sparingly. He is more consistently active on YouTube, where he now runs something akin to a television channel, running features he’s not even directly involved in. He’s also pioneering, making space for other NBA players to customize their own interactive content channels. It’s not surprising that KD and YouTube work so well together–Kevin likes truth and realism, and video tends to tell a more complete, honest story. Plus, trolls have to go to a lot more trouble to bother him there. More evidence of his preference for realism is his choice to appear on Simmons’s podcast semi-annually: it’s obvious that Kevin prefers that his audience see him (YouTube) and hear him (Simmons) as opposed to interpreting images (Instagram) and text (Twitter). Durant wants us to get the sides of the story that most athletes don’t offer up. He is genuine and wants to take control of his narrative.
Bouta go walk around LA and see if sum1 can get a picture of me walkin next 2 like ciara or Rihanna or sumbody so they can say we dating!!!
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) January 16, 2011
Kevin Durant has mostly done away with red carpets, commercial appearances, and staged TMZ photoshoots. Eleven years into his career, he’s long over the synthetic gimmicks that distract from The Game. On Simmons, KD laughs off the prospect of a high-profile, embellished relationship with someone like SZA. KD goes on to discuss his prior naïveté around the intertwining of the NBA with the entertainment business, emphasizing, “I thought people really, really, really genuinely loved The Game like I did.” He credits the move away from OKC as the turning point, referring to disloyal fans, whose marriage to NBA basketball is conditional. NBA fans are consumers, whose demands have changed with the times to include 24-hour access to athletes and a journalistic pipeline of storyline fodder to keep them satiated. KD says loud and clear, “narratives sometimes aren’t facts,” indicating that being in the spotlight often begs a dependency on untruths and manufactured realities in order to keep an appearance. Kevin insists that his and his colleagues’ careers and achievements are just that: careers and achievements. NBA players live public lives; that doesn’t mean they’re immune to reality.
Simmons, with a backhanded humble brag, points out that no other athlete of Durant’s caliber in the four major U.S. sports leagues does a recurring podcast appearance like KD does every few months with Simmons. Kevin is a remarkably authentic foil to his more inaccessible counterparts. A part of this which can’t be overlooked is Durant’s fundamental difference to many of his NBA peers: he is a single, childless homebody. Mentor LeBron James is as often a Father of the Year candidate as he is an MVP candidate; former Oklahoma City co-headliner Russell Westbrook is adoring parenting his infant son; friends and 2016 Olympic teammates Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Draymond Green, DeMar DeRozan, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, and DeMarcus Cousins are all devoted dads as soon as they step outside the lines. Kevin’s quiet personal life underpins his priorities and hobbies. He merely has time and energy that most of his All-Star counterparts don’t. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the 29-year-old, whose first true love is basketball, is prone to goofy mistakes off the court. He’s too preoccupied not making mistakes on the court.
Kevin Durant is the rare household name who doesn’t mind being devastatingly honest about his profession. Yet his candor too often leaves a bad taste in the mouths of a slice of the NBA universe, and while it’s been this way since July 2016, it’s worth emphasizing that in his nine career years prior, KD was generally well-liked by the ordinary fan. It wasn’t until Durant began making himself vulnerable to the public that things started to change. We return to the idea of contingent loyalty: why should Kevin have to shut up and take the blog boys’ criticism when his moves are under constant scrutiny? Durant isn’t a bad person. He simply deviates from the norm, and it’s discomforting for some. In a few decades, we should be able to look past his minor Twitter transgressions and foray into The Players’ Tribune, and give thanks that one of the greatest players of the modern era was so open with us.
KD quips to Simmons, “people tell us we’re superstars. We really aren’t.” Reflecting on his first NBA championship, Durant notes that it wasn’t long before he realized he wasn’t “King Anything.” He maintains, “I’m just a mere mortal. But I’m really f***ing good at basketball.”
Durant has recalibrated his priorities. He’s long over the frilly entertainment gimmicks of the NBA, cutting some of the clutter out of his career. His investment hobby is contingent only on his ability to translate it into “authentic and cool” things he can feel proud of. His charitable pursuits reveal heightened responsibility: off the court and outside of the Valley, Kevin pivots to the communities which raised him. He has tasked himself with the things that matter most to him, and little else. Through it all, The Game remains number one.
When Durant made his move from Oklahoma to Oakland, he chose to take advantage of his worth, breaking ground on an enterprise that will be feeding his family for generations to come. But when Kevin and his agent-turned-business-partner Rich Kleiman talk about their noted successful ventures into Silicon Valley, they both emphasize that their investment successes could not exist without basketball. On Simmons, Kevin explains, “it wouldn’t happen if I didn’t bounce a basketball. I know who I am and what I am. I’m true to The Game because that’s just what I do.” Venture capitalism is merely a perk of living in the Bay Area, and certainly not what KD would call a commitment. He’s not about to prioritize a tech investment over his craft, and Kleiman notes that investing is by no means Kevin’s “number-one passion” away from basketball. That would be the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation, with which Kevin has proven time and again that he’s absolutely not the trope of a rich athlete “checking the box” of charity in order to keep up a good PR narrative.
In the 2017-18 season alone, Kevin Durant has donated $10,000 to De-Bug, a San Jose-based organizing site focused on social justice in and beyond Silicon Valley, as part of Colin Kaepernick’s 10 for 10 movement. He donated $3 million to basketball and leadership facilities at his alma mater, the University of Texas, at least $25,000 at Christmastime to homeless Oakland children and families through Larkin Street Youth Services and Elizabeth House; and a commitment of $10 million over ten years to College Track at The Durant Center, an upcoming facility in Durant’s hometown. This is meant not only to get students in Prince George’s County ready for college but to graduate them and prepare them for career success as well. Kevin Durant cares immeasurably about spreading his wealth and taking care of the communities he owes his successes to.
In February 2018, Kevin appeared in a much-discussed episode of UNINTERRUPTED’s Rolling with the Champion, in which he, LeBron James, and Cari Champion engage in Kevin’s preferred type of conversation: candid, unfiltered, and real. In it, the three discuss a myriad of topics, including the NBA All-Star Game, fatherhood, humble beginnings, and ultimately the presidency and state of the nation. James and Durant, noted critics of President Trump and the uptick in open racism since his election, didn’t hold back. The public expression of their political opinions was rebutted by Fox News personality Laura Ingraham, whose condescension and covert racism yielded a counter-movement: #ShutUpandDribble. Durant’s choice to stick to his guns and make confident non-basketball criticisms may not have been possible had his personal journey, up until that point, been curtailed by those that prefer him to be quiet about his NBA-related qualms.
Kevin Durant has the respect of his peers and considers himself part of an elite group of friends; he and guys like his 2018 All-Star teammates LeBron, Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving “respect each other because we’ve got a certain set of skills.” Significantly, he’s made nice with Westbrook, eliminating the stressor which marked and sometimes marred his already bumpy 2016-17 season. He repurposes slander into wearable merchandise. He’s partnered with Apple to produce basketball stories. And in a way, Kevin Durant is playing with house money, having already fulfilled his prophecy: leaving Oklahoma City led immediately to his first NBA title. In all, Kevin Durant, today, is enjoying his life. He’s about to embark on another playoff run, one destined to be more challenging than the 2017 title run and thus more exciting to Durant, a forever student of The Game.
Durant is going to talk. It would do us all well to listen without prejudice–the candid superstar is a rare one.