OKLAHOMA CITY — The music was loud outside, where the parking was scarce.
A crush of OKC fans wearing free T-shirts gathered and positioned themselves in front of giant TVs, monitors and vendors who were selling water in 90-degree temperatures.
Inside, the Oklahoma City Thunder practice facility was transformed into a dimly lit room with blaring music. Dignitaries like the governor of Oklahoma and the mayor of Oklahoma City mingled with a mix of fans, children from the local Boys and Girls Club, season ticket holders and even Kevin Durant’s mother — who was holding what might have been the largest bouquet of flowers in six counties.
But on stage — while the NBA and the Oklahoma City community honored Durant with a video that made Durant’s mother cry — Durant himself was crying and smiling all at the same time.
The five-time All Star, Olympic gold medalist, four-time scoring champ and biggest thing to happen in Oklahoma City in at least two decades was honored Tuesday afternoon as the league’s MVP. Hard to imagine another market making this kind of production, but then again no market has a player who is so intrinsically tied to the community.
A year ago, Durant walked the streets of Moore, Okla., after a devastating tornado came through. He donated $1 million, but it wasn’t Durant who made the announcement. It was the Red Cross. And Tuesday, Durant took the NBA trophy, but took no credit, thanking his family and going teammate by teammate, thanking them and letting everyone get an emotional locker room tour.
He talked about the tornadoes and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. He talked about community and values and all of the people who helped get him to this point.
And Durant did it while stopping regularly to wipe his eyes.
"I don’t know why I’m crying so much," he said. "I never thought I could make it to college, the NBA or stand up here in front of you guys. I have failed so many times and got back up. I’ve been through the toughest times. I’m still standing.
Durant could have continued standing behind the microphone talking through the tears in his sleek purple suit for a lot longer. His 25-minute speech came natural as his jumper, purely organic and from the heart. No notes. Durant freelanced, but with direction and a dedication that caused tears all around, from the family that sat in the front row to his teammates sitting behind him.
"This is a tremendous honor," Durant said. "I’m very grateful. So many people have helped me out. This is our first MVP. We did this together. It feels great to celebrate it."
The community clearly felt the same way. The entire practice facility was filled, and the people outside cheered right along when Durant told his mother, "You’re the real MVP."
Durant averaged a career-best 32 points per game. The Thunder won 59 games in the regular season and are in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. No one mentioned a thing about that, his numbers, stats or concerns.
"We just witnessed a classic, KD moment," coach Scott Brooks said. "He mentioned it was ‘our trophy.’ That’s who he is. We’ve seen him grow up in front of our eyes."
So instead of basketball, Durant talked about his teammates. Instead of winning and losing, Durant talked about perseverance.
"We don’t get to tell each other how much we appreciate each other," Durant said. "This was the perfect setting to do so."
Durant said he went to the Internet to check out videos of previous MVP speeches from LeBron James and Derrick Rose. And he wanted his speech Tuesday to be memorable.
"I wanted to leave my mark," Durant said, talking about his speech. "I know it was a little long; those guys deserved to be singled out."
Durant was singled out Tuesday, but instead he shared the credit. He hugged his mother and brother and family. He addressed the crowd outside and came back in and stood in between 50 kids, all wearing KD backpacks.
And Durant talked about the community, this state, this organization that threw this party for him.
"We’re just trying to bring life to people," Durant said. "Having something like this represents what we’re about. We fall down, but we get up and keep fighting until we finish first. It’s the perfect place for me. I enjoy being part of something like this."