SEATTLE — This was the third Friday of September, just before the start of Warriors training camp. The plan called for Durant to arrive at Powell Barnett park in east Seattle at 1 PM, speak to the crowd, knock down an inaugural jumper on the refurbished court—the work of his Kevin Durant Charity Foundation—and engage in a shooting game with local kids. Lenny Wilkens was on hand, looking ageless. A DJ spun PG-rated dance tunes. A makeshift VIP tent provided shelter from a light sprinkle. And many, many boys and girls clustered, either with parents or, one assumed, having found creative reasons to avoid school.
Then Durant arrived and all hell broke loose. On the court, a local dignitary was in the middle of a speech, only to see it rendered instantly irrelevant. The kids and dad and moms swarmed Durant (especially, it should be noted, the dads), cell phones and Sharpies in the air. Durant gave a brief speech and hit the first shot. But there was no way he was getting enough air space for a shooting game.
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Durant’s handlers aborted the rest of the program and encircled him as he posed for photos, signed autographs, and did some media hits, including this on. As Durant answered questions, scrunched onto a folding chair that made him look like a parent visiting an elementary school, a throng stood, held at bay, about ten feet behind him. Then Durant’s crew hurried him up some steps to a waiting car. In the stampede of teenagers that ensued, someone broke the branch off a tree. Such is the lure of Durant, especially in Seattle.
This isn’t entirely new for Durant, of course, who’s been a sports celebrity his whole adult life. This season will be different, though. Some will love him; others will find any number of reasons to denounce or root against him. That’s all external, though.
The internal friction could be the more interesting element. Durant says he wants to be a team player, part of a selfless whole. He’s also the best scorer of his generation, a guy not immune to tracking his stats during games and informing his teammates that Hey, I’m Goddamn Open Over Here. His evolution to part-time hero could be rocky. Or it could be near-seamless, as with Chris Bosh and Ray Allen. (I’d love to hear Durant’s candid answer to the question posed of points per game vs. titles, both now and again after this season, but he’s savvy enough not to share that publicly).
In Seattle, I sensed a wariness, whether on account of the situation or that days’ comments from Russell Westbrook, one enforced by the ground rules for the interview (no questions about free agency or the summer). Since then, Durant has been opening up some, perhaps inching toward that “Screw it” mode Kobe eventually reached (though, of course, Kobe called it the “F—k it mode”). Here’s to hoping it continues.