Durant a True MVP, Leader
In the building where the first drops of sweat in Thunder team history splashed onto the basketball floor, only tears of joy and love fell on Tuesday.
In front of 2,000 Oklahomans at the Thunder Events Center, and the Thunder’s original practice facility, Kevin Durant accepted the Maurice Podoloff Trophy for the NBA KIA Most Valuable Player Award.
During his emotional, 25-minute MVP acceptance speech, Durant went down the line to personally and specifically thank everyone who made the award possible. From poignant, heart-felt memories with family to hilarious ribbing of his teammates, Durant turned an award signifying his own personal achievements into one shared by everyone in his family, the Thunder organization, and in the state of Oklahoma.
“I’ve put in so much work and so many people have helped me out,” Durant said. “I feel like we all won.”
“It feels like a group award and it feels great to celebrate it with such a good group of guys,” Durant continued.
With his teammates and coaching staff seated behind him, the basketball support staff to his right and Thunder General Manager Sam Presti and Head Coach Scott Brooks sitting to his left, Durant ensured that Tuesday’s event would signify the value and importance he places on those around him in the organization.
The seventh-year forward’s humility, passion and dedication to others was on full display not just during his speech, but in the execution of the entire afternoon, as he made sure to include everyone who has helped him become the player, and more importantly, the man that he is today.
“He just won the highest individual award that the NBA can offer, the MVP of the National Basketball Association,” Brooks said. “The first thing he mentioned was that it’s our trophy. That’s who he is. That’s the person we’ve all grown to love and have seen grow up in front of our eyes.”
“He’s an authentic person,” Presti said. “When you go through the ups and downs that we have as an organization, everyone wears the same scars. I think it brings people closer together and most of all, we understand that it’s a special time and place and you have to celebrate that when you can.”
Russell Westbrook said earlier in the day that, “actions speak louder than words,” and it is for that reason that Durant has the ultimate respect from his teammates. Through his daily work ethic since the moment the Thunder arrived in Oklahoma City and stepped inside that old practice facility, Durant has helped set the standards for determination, consistency and commitment that players in the organization hold themselves to and will continue to be held to for years to come.
While this is Durant’s first MVP award, it has been percolating for years. All of the late night sessions at the gym on the road with teammates, early morning competitions with Westbrook to see who could get to the practice facility earliest and inspiring messages from coaches and staff have culminated to create the 2013-14 season the Durant put together.
He is being recognized by the NBA for his remarkable ability to lead the Thunder through adversity to a 59-win season while averaging a staggering 32 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game on over 50 percent shooting.
Durant truly earned this MVP award, however, in all of the countless days over the seven years of his NBA career and even before that, at the University of Texas and in Prince George County, Maryland, when all he had was his internal drive, the support of his family and a basketball.
“It’s really refreshing that this award was given to Kevin through just doing his work and committing to the things that are most important to the team,” Presti said. “I don’t think it could have been earned any more purely.”
“It’s his work ethic and his commitment,” Brooks said. “He strives to be the best possible basketball player he can possibly be. In that pursuit, it is relentless. He does it with such a pure heart that it inspires all his teammates and coaches alike. He gives everything to his team, he gives everything to his community and that’s something, to me, that is inspiring.”
Durant can create awe inspiring moments on the court, but his reputation and commitment off the court is just as sparkling. After completing his speech and press conference inside to half of the crowd in attendance, Durant stepped outside to greet the other half of the fans, who were eagerly watching the broadcast of the speech on a video screen and awaiting his arrival.
Durant thanked them for all of their support, then donated the SUV that KIA gives to MVP winners each year to Moore Youth and Family Services’ Executive Director Lisa Williams, who was “speechless” and “overwhelmed by the compassion and generosity”. Nearly a year after donating $1 Million to the victims of the F5 tornado that ravaged Moore, OK, Durant again made sure to give back to those in the area who are still recovering.
For all that Durant does on the court, it is his presence off of it that is just as integral to why, in Oklahomans’ eyes, he is always their MVP. As a touching tribute video that was played before Durant’s speech showed, Oklahoma City's citizens and Durant's teammates alike understand the immense contributions Durant has made during his time in Oklahoma City. The trajectories of his personal career, the Thunder organization and the city have all steadily risen together, and for that, all of Oklahoma is grateful.
“I feel like us being here as the Thunder, we just try to shine a bright light and bring life to people,” Durant said. “Having something like this represents what we’re about. If we fall down, we get up. We may finish second, but we keep fighting until we finish first. That says a lot about the city. It’s the perfect place for me.”
Fortunately for Thunder fans not only in Oklahoma, but all over the world, Durant will treat his first MVP season with the same regard as every one of his others – as a stepping stone towards continued improvement. Coming into each season, Durant has found ways to come back a better player, and managed to develop his game during the course of the regular season and even during this current postseason run.
While Durant, his family, the Thunder and Oklahomans will all celebrate his MVP award, it should be noted that the 25-year-old star is far from done becoming the best all-around player that he can possibly be.
“I always feel that there is another level that I can go to,” Durant said. “I think the hardest thing in this league is being consistent. I just try to be consistent in my effort, leadership, attitude, being coachable and learning.”