Hard Work Puts Durant in Spotlight

DALLAS – Kevin Durant remembers the day well.

He was 9 or 10 years old and just coming off a good game. He was boasting – about himself. And it basically stopped right then and there.

"My mom told me, 'always act like you've been there before; always try to get better and never take this for granted and never put yourself on that pedestal,' " Durant said. "So I always took that to heart and always made sure I was humble and know that at anytime this can be taken away from me and I just want to continue to let everybody know that I want to get better and that this is not the end for me."

That was the story Durant gave on Friday about where his humility comes from, the very act that we've seen from him on a daily basis.

It's a virtue that's helped mold Durant into the player and person he is today. And even during NBA All-Star Weekend, the time a player is asked to talk about himself almost more than anything else, Durant's humility was front and center. It never wavered.

Durant said that he's been doing a "decent job" this season, but knows he can do better. He was more comfortable talking about team than self.

Durant handled Friday's All-Star media availability, the 30-minute session with reporters from across the globe, like a grizzled vet. It was his moment in the spotlight. But he refused to bask in it. Seated at a table between Carmelo Anthony and Zach Randolph, Durant attracted quite the crowd. Dozens upon dozens of media made their way to him.

On maybe three different occasions, Durant said that this quite possibly was the largest media throng he'd faced since the day he was selected with the No. 2 pick of the NBA Draft.

One by one, the questions came. Some of them were serious. Others were just plain silly. And, depending on what language you speak, some required an interpreter.

But Durant sat there, looked reporters in the eye and answered every question tossed his way, no matter if it was already asked or if he had to move his lips in a funny way so he could say something in Chinese.

A reporter from NBA China informed Durant that the interview was being streamed live to China. She told Durant that since he's been "on fire" as of late, maybe he can look into the camera and say, "I'm on fire" in Chinese. Only Durant politely disputed that.

"I don't think I'm on fire," he said before obliging. "I shot bad last night."

And there goes Kevin being all humble again.

Asked what the last 24 hours had been like for him, and Durant quickly said it's been a dream come true. He had just gotten out of a meeting with the rest of the All-Stars, some of who offered him congratulations. It's the respect he's earned from his peers – both on at an individual and team level – that has helped him realize that hard work really does pay off.

Maryland native Carmelo Anthony, the Denver Nuggets forward who will start in the game, has followed Durant since he was in high school. Anthony remembered Durant briefly attending his old school, Oak Hill Academy, for a period of time before transferring. Anthony said he was heartbroken when Durant switched schools, but that he seemed to blossom practically overnight.

"He's unbelievable," Anthony said. "For him to lead that young team – and he's a young person – but for him to lead that team, he's doing a hell of a job with that."

"Unbelievable" was also the word that Utah's Deron Williams used to describe Durant, who will be his teammate on Team USA this summer.

"I definitely look forward to playing with him," Williams said.

Part of why Durant has remained humble is because he's seen and learned.

He remembers being a part of the USA Basketball Select Team after his rookie year, and how he and Jeff Green went to a Las Vegas gym on an off day to get some work in. Durant and Green practiced on one side of the floor. On the other side was Kobe Bryant. Durant will never forget that day and what it taught him.

"He shot for two hours straight and he didn't take a break or nothing," Durant said. "And once he was done you could tell he worked hard. He was sweating. He was tired. That shows how a player of his caliber, arguably the best player in the world, comes in and works hard on an off day. It speaks volumes to young players like myself and Jeff Green."

One thing Durant has taken a strong dislike to is comparisons. He was asked multiple times what he thinks of being mentioned in the same breath as Kobe or LeBron, to which Durant all but scoffed at.

"I don't really like when people compare me to those guys," he said. "They're way above me. They're more experienced and they've won more. That's not only unfair to them but to me. I don't want to be like LeBron, Kobe or 'Melo. I just want to be Kevin Durant, and hopefully that's at an All-Star level each year."

It's worked so far for Durant.

And he actually wants to take something from this weekend. It's more than just an exhibition game and a ton of photo shoots and media scrums, more than just a chance to rub elbows with the game's most talented players. For Durant, it might be a bit about all those things but it's more about what he can take from this weekend that will help further his development. Durant's already said that he'll keep a close eye on Bryant throughout practice, during pre-game and on the court. Durant wants to know more about how one of the game's elite players prepares himself on a daily basis.

Durant refuses to settle. He doesn't take all of this for granted.

"I'm learning the game," he said. "My teammates are doing a great job of helping me out. I have a long way to go before I really get to where I want to be, but if I continue to work and get better with my team, the sky's the limit."

Contact Chris Silva