Already having fought back tears for a few minutes, Kevin Durant turned and looked at his 14 teammates on stage with him.
“I want to single them out,” he said, and everyone in the room expected the next word to be “but” as he moved on with some other generic thank yous.
Instead, Durant singled them out. Each and every one of them, one by one.
First, the veterans. Derek Fisher, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha, Hasheem Thabeet, Caron Butler and Serge Ibaka. He started with Thabeet, thanking him for his ridiculously positive attitude. Then Fisher, for his professionalism and dedication to the game. Then Perk, who Durant noted that he “hated” him before he arrived, but said he’s maybe the best teammate he’s ever had, thanking him for his late night calls and constant encouragement. Then Collison, who has been Durant’s longest tenured teammate, who has watched him grow from an 18-year-old beanpole into the most devastating scorer in the league. Then Sefolosha, who Durant recognized for his selflessness. Then Butler, who has only been with the team for a couple months, but already has had a massive influence, like the note he dropped in Durant’s locker that said “KD MVP.” Then Ibaka, who apparently was ready to brawl with Durant at times, but is someone that is considered a brother.
But Durant was only getting started. On to the the young players after that, where amazingly, Durant remembered Grant Jerrett was on the team, which was the most impressive thing he did all day. And as he walked through Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, Perry Jones, Steven Adams, Jerrett and Andre Roberson, it was becoming obvious that Durant was saving someone for last.
“I know you guys think I forgot Russ,” he said. “I could speak all night about Russell.”
Durant paused to compose himself.
“An emotional guy that would run through a wall for me,” he said of Westbrook. “I don’t him for granted. There are days where I want to tackle you and tell you to snap out of it sometimes. And I know there are days you want to do the same to me. I love you, man. I love you. People put unfair criticism on you as a player and I’m the first to have your back, man, through it all. Stay the person you are. Everybody loves you here. I love you.”
Durant moved on to thank Thunder owner Clay Bennett, general manager Sam Presti, assistant GM Troy Weaver, the training staff, Scott Brooks, his family and finally God. For a minute there, I thought he was going to break out an Oklahoma City phone book and start going one by one.
“When they told me I was going to win this prestigious award, the first thing I did was go to YouTube and look at what LeBron James said, and what Derrick Rose said and I just tried to change it up a little bit,” Durant said of his speech. “I wanted to come here and hit everyone in the face with what I said, so they could feel it. I wanted to leave my mark and I know it was a little long, but I felt like these guys deserved to be singled out, every single one of them because they’ve sacrificed for me.”
Durant’s speech was an emotional tour of the Thunder’s locker room, a glimpse behind the curtain of what we’ve all heard makes the team so special. For instance, we’ve all heard plenty about how Perk is an emotional leader in the locker room, and his presence is often worth the bumbles and stumbles. The way Durant spoke of Perk passionately, the way his throat caught when he talked about the late night calls and texts of encouragement, tell the story we’ve all been searching for.
Every player wants to put on the show that the MVP is a team award. It’s the ultimate individual recognition, singling out a player from a team for an outstanding season. But basketball is a team game that includes five on a team at a time, and it can be awkward for one guy to be elevated above his teammates. Whether it’s an NBA MVP, the Heisman trophy, an Oscar — whatever — people attempt to make the award communal. Durant though? He pulled it off, and then some.
It started with requesting a chartered bus for his team to ride together on from the current practice facility to the old one, where the event was held. Then he asked for his whole team to be brought on stage with him. And then he checked each one of them off, naming them with a personal anecdote. Durant knew he was going long, but he didn’t care. He wanted this moment to be bigger than him, and he was going to take the time to get it just right.
There’s a reason Durant is recognized as one of the most likeable players in the league. It was on fully display during his 25-minute speech. Because he has no problem being himself. He’s the real deal. He’s genuine. There’s no fluff, no showmanship. Nothing is ever just for the cameras. You know tears are real when you’re desperate to hold them back. Durant was overcome, and as he tabbed each person on his list, he said “I love you.” And at no point did I think that line was merely filler. He meant it each and every time.
This was a season to remember for Durant. His scoring average, his career-high in assists, his absurd PER, his January run without Westbrook, his 41 straight games, his conquering of LeBron James as second place for this award — this was Durant’s day to bask in his achievement.
Instead, he talked about his teammates for 25 minutes. Because that’s Kevin Durant.