In the fall of 2011, the NBA season was delayed due to a labor lockout. No training camp. No practice. Eventually no games, at least until Christmas. To stay sharp and in shape, players used personal trainers, old coaches and even pickup games with other pros.
Kevin Durant, then 23 years old and seeking to bring an NBA title to Oklahoma City, was one of them. Except at night, long after whatever personal workout he went through, he couldn’t shake the need to simply play the game he loved, even for free.
So wherever he was training that day (he spent time traveling about, city to city) he’d often find the local playground or YMCA gym with the most competitive games and then, unannounced, just show up.
He was just Kevin, just another guy looking for a run.
Crowds would quickly ring the court as kids sprinted in from all around, filming the action for YouTube. He most famously dropped 66 in a game at Harlem’s Rucker Park, but it was a nightly thing nearly everywhere.
“I just love to play basketball,” Durant would explain later. “It’s fun.”
Durant tends to find more than his share of drama, his career seemingly part on-court brilliance and part off-court soap opera. Fun isn’t a term often used with him.
From growing up in Prince George’s County, Maryland, to NBA superstardom, however, there has been one constant: he eats, breathes and sleeps basketball.
Durant is set to miss his entire first season with the Brooklyn Nets while rehabbing the Achilles he injured during last year’s NBA Finals. Waiting all the way until Nets training camp to return, however, may prove too difficult though.
Durant’s name remains part of USA Basketball’s pool of players for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. And one of his longtime business partners, Rich Kleiman, told the Washington Post that Durant’s interest in a third Olympic appearance — and third gold medal — is real.
“[Tokyo is] definitely a possibility,” Kleiman told the Post. “He allowed his name to be in the group of finalists. But there are other benchmarks in front of him that are more important before he makes those decisions.”
So, if Durant is deemed healthy by summer, should he go to Japan and represent his country? Or should he sit out and not risk further injury that could impact the Nets, who are paying him handsomely?
The answer is easy: the Olympics.
The NBA doesn’t just allow its highly paid players to join its national teams, it absolutely encourages it. NBA stars have fueled the global growth of the game dating back to the original 1992 Dream Team.
So Durant has the contractual right. And here’s guessing he will absolutely have the desire to play real games as soon as he possibly can.
About the last thing anyone should do is tell an American he or she shouldn’t represent America (or any other country). Athletes of all kinds cherish each Olympic experience, so getting to go a third time is just three times the blessing.
Is there risk here for the Nets? Well, maybe. Obviously a player is more likely to be injured, or reinjured, playing basketball than not playing basketball. However, Durant could get hurt in regular workouts. He is already playing pickup games at the team facility.
With USA Basketball he’d be surrounded by a world-class training and medical staff. Due to the expected depth and power of the American team under coach Gregg Popovich, it’s unlikely he’d log too many minutes. If anything, the games are kind of a nice step in the direction of NBA intensity (at least until the medal rounds).
Mostly though, if Durant wants to go, then the Nets are getting the exact person and player they knew (or should have known) they were getting when they signed him to a four-year, $164 million deal.
He’s a baller. Always. That’s always been his thing. It’s who he is.
As a kid, his mother gave him a set of matchbox cars, yet he didn’t race them around a track, he would just use them to invent and diagram basketball plays.
He spent nearly every waking minute playing ball at the Seat Pleasant Activity Center near his home in Maryland. Yet rather than just show off like lots kids, he and his coaches, Charles “Chucky” Craig and Taras Brown, created a training regime they thought would one day maximize his then-predicted height (nearly 7 feet).
As such, he studied old videos of 6-foot-9 Larry Bird hitting jumpers, and Durant slowly developed the shot and faceup game that has made him nearly impossible to defend.
Durant was so obsessed with daily improvement that he would even hide behind a curtain at the activity center and take a nap during the couple of hours it would close each afternoon. That way he’d be the first one in the gym when it reopened for the evening session.
Later, as a teen, he attended four different high schools, always seeking better competition, different coaching or any edge. Basketball was everything.
That’s Durant. That’s the multimillionaire at some city park pickup game.
And that’s why rehabbed Achilles or not, nine-figure deal with the Nets or not, if he is ready to play this summer, he’s probably going to be in Tokyo playing.
Good for him.
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