Bad Bad Man: The Metamorphosis of Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant

We thought we knew Kevin Durant. The best scorer on the planet & cer­ti­fi­able chair­man of the nice guy club. But there is a fun­da­men­tal flaw in Nice guys, sports his­tory bears wit­ness. David Robin­son. Shaq in his early days. Dwight Howard. Pre-2012 Lebron James.

They’re too con­sid­er­ate. Smile too much. Too hum­ble. Want to be loved. But win­ning is not about mak­ing friends. Win­ning is not about being liked.

It takes cer­tain anger to win. An anger focused into a refusal to accept los­ing as a pos­si­bil­ity. It takes tough­ness. A cer­tain type of psy­chosis. An uncom­pro­mis­ing pathos.

This is not nec­es­sar­ily some­thing you’re born with. It can be acquired. It can be cul­ti­vated. Michael may have had it but he sharp­ened it to med­ically alarm­ing lev­els that make ther­a­pists shud­der. A weapon he forged from the rage of the count­less tack­les and take­downs at the hands of Rodman’s Pistons.

Kobe, another player infa­mous for his mani­a­cal mean streak was actu­ally a happy-go-lucky teenager when he first got to the league — win­ning rookie game MVPs, dunk­ing between his legs and tak­ing Brandy to the prom,  all while flash­ing a wide smile radi­at­ing an unmis­tak­ably inno­cent glow. An inno­cence that was soon lost…

Every set­back adds up, but there is always a defin­i­tive moment in time, a the break in the nar­ra­tive where we are sud­denly faced with some­thing that is at once famil­iar yet all-together dif­fer­ent. When we look back at Kevin Durant’s career, this stretch will be marked as the emer­gence of Ice­berg Slim — the worlds most lethal bas­ket­ball machine.

In Kevin’s case it all began with the 2012 loss to Miami in the Finals. Sud­denly ‘happy to be here’ wasn’t enough. Then Harden was traded before the begin­ning of the 2012–13 sea­son, leav­ing a gap­ing void in the team’s young core. A void that would have to be filled by com­mit­tee, but also specif­i­cally by Durant. He needed to do more than just score, he needed to make plays — win­ning plays. He seem­ingly played the entire sea­son with a chip on his shoul­der, estab­lish­ing the Thun­der as the team to beat in the west, but Westbrook’s unex­pected knee injury in the first round of the play­offs left them look­ing beaten. Another set­back. Another sea­son wasted.

They began this sea­son on unsure foot­ing too, but got West­brook back ahead of sched­ule and sud­denly every­thing was just right in the state of Okla­homa. The young role play­ers were devel­op­ing, Serge was step­ping into the role of the 3rd scorer and defen­sive anchor (not just shot-blocker), and Rus­sel & KD were unques­tion­ably the league’s most lethal one-two punch since the days of Shaq & Kobe.

The Thun­der were 23–5 when they beat the Knicks on Christ­mas day, with West­brook log­ging a triple dou­ble in just 3 quar­ters. Things couldn’t have been bet­ter… & then dis­as­ter struck — West­brook went down with a sec­ond knee injury and there was a ter­ri­fy­ing sense of deja-vu. All the momen­tum they had been build­ing had just been lost. It seemed like a hay­maker the team would not be able to recover from. It’s tim­ing vicious, cruel and crippling.

The next day when Durant said “I need Reg­gie Jack­son. I need Serge Ibaka. I need Kendrick Perkins. I’m not afraid to say that… I need to lean on those guys, just like we need to lean on each other. That is what team is about. So through adver­sity we just have to lean on each other.” it sounded like a plea for help. Words of a leader try­ing to be brave in the face on unavoid­able defeat.

The Thun­der sput­tered along, play­ing mediocre bas­ket­ball, going 5 — 5 in the next 10 even though Kevin was doing all he could (includ­ing two 48 point games) — or so it seemed.

They fol­lowed that with a win against the Rock­ets, head­ing into a  match-up against the War­riors the very next night. The teams had played each other to a vir­tual draw in their two ear­lier meet­ings, each game being decided on a last sec­ond shot. This time KD was hav­ing none of it.

This was the game marked what may be the most sig­nif­i­cant moment in the NBA for years to come. This player who dropped 54 was a dif­fer­ent beast. One we’d never seen before. In seem­ingly an instant every­thing changed. This sea­son was no longer about Miami. This league, this planet was no longer Lebron’s. Kevin Durant had seized the bas­ket­ball zeit­geist by its throat and coerced a coro­na­tion. In fact Kevin Durant as we knew him was dead. Long live Ice­berg Slim (mad props to Jalen Rose for coin­ing this moniker).

What fol­lowed has been his­toric and mete­oric (I see you Clyde) & here are the best bits:

There was the Port­land game where they trailed 93–90 in the fourth quar­ter when Durant slammed his hand on the scorer’s table & was whis­tled for a tech­ni­cal foul. Durant then scored in the lane, made a 3-pointer, and told the Port­land bench  “I’m about to take this shit over.” OKC closed the game on a 15–4 run  (Durant had 11) to beat the Blazers.

The Hawks Game where he scored 41 points includ­ing a game win­ner against a dou­ble team to cap his team’s comeback.

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& the state­ment game against Lebron & the Heat!

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Kevin Durant was on my tele­vi­sion putting up 33 points on 52 per­cent shoot­ing, as he com­pletely destroyed the Heat defense in a blowout win in Miami. Wow! What an incred­i­ble feat! This is the stuff kings are made of  … NO …  super­heroes are made of … NOGODS ARE MADE OF!” — Jason Gal­lager

& What is truly ter­ri­fy­ing is that as unbe­liev­ably good as he is right now, he is just 25 and HAS NOT ENTERED HIS PRIME YET!!!

& in other news, clin­i­cal depres­sion is at an all time high among for­mer Super­son­ics fans. Sorry Seattle!

 

 

 

 

Dev Kabir Malik has a clinically alarming dependence on basketball and spends most of his time watching, analyzing, writing and even playing a little pickup (and some 2K too). In the little time he has left, he dabbles with design, art & music.