by Abe Schwadron / @abe_squad

At this point in my life, I consider myself a half-decent pickup basketball player. My hoops “career” didn’t go much beyond a short stint on the JV squad at my over-crowded public high school back home in the DMV. And these days, I liken my game to JR Smith—sometimes I’m hot, sometimes I’m not. But I’ve earned my respect at the occasional weeknight runs with the SLAM fam.

That said, I have no business lining up across from Kevin Durant on a basketball court. And yet, there I was, thrown into the fire, standing toe to toe with the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar. Wearing his sneakers.

Durant and Nike launched the KD VI in late June, inviting media from all around the world to come visit KD’s favorite spots in the DC metro area from which he hails. Among the final stops on the tour was Sidwell Friends School, a quiet private school in the District that counts the Obama daughters among its students.

I’d been here before, for basketball camps when I was in elementary school, back when I thought I might one day have my own sneaker. I, along with media from Europe, Asia and South America, laced up a fresh pair of KD VIs for a “wear test.” Like most such sessions on the sneaker junket, we ran through some light drills to feel the kicks from the inside out. Little did we know that the Durantula would walk through the gymnasium doors moments later and not only watch, but play with us.

That’s right. Kevin Durant played four five-minute quarters of pickup ball with 40 strangers. Eventually, my turn came. And, sensing that few of my fellow media members had much basketball background in them, I walked up to Durant, hiked my shorts up and prayed to Gawd he didn’t embarrass me to the point of my broken ankles ending up on WorldStar the next morning. The specifics of what happened beyond this point aren’t really important. (Though if you really want to know: I did not end up a YouTube victim, but he did hit a long three. And somewhere, there’s grainy iPhone video of me hitting a trey, too. I swear.)

What matters—beyond the sneakers, which thanks to a smooth, cushioned fit and amplified style will no doubt will become a staple around the NBA in 2013-14—is that here we were, a bunch of nobodies, playing ball with one of the two or three most gifted ballers on Planet Earth.

I know what you’re thinking—Nike “made him” do it. Forced him to make nice with reporters to better represent his new signature sneaker. Except that over the course of the three days I spent around Durant that week, one thing stuck out most: Kevin Durant is obsessed with basketball.

At every turn, every interview session, Durant talked about next season, how he couldn’t wait for it to start. Seemingly every question was met with an answer about how his game is evolving. How different landmarks from his childhood represent new levels of love he learned for the game itself.

After the media departed that day, Durant stuck around to host his annual skills camp for select college players. Again, rather than just play host, though, KD participated in drills and ran sprints alongside guys like Jabari Parker and Marshall Henderson. I mentioned this to Alan Stein, a pro strength and conditioning coach who has worked with Durant since high school, as we stood on the sidelines. Stein told me that KD realizes those kids will be in the NBA in a few years, gunning for him. “He’s working out with high school and college kids because he wants to. He doesn’t have to do that,” Stein echoed. “This is his skills academy—all he has to do is make a guest appearance. He chooses to go through all of these drills every day.”

Plain and simple, Kevin doesn’t miss any opportunity to play basketball. It’s fitting, then, that the only man in the sneaker world who can match Durant’s level of obsession has also been the lead designer of the KD line since its inception: Leo Chang.

I first met Chang in March of 2012, just as KD’s signature sneaker line was really taking off, thanks to a) KD the player, leading his team to the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, and b) the KD IV, a hit with serious ballers and sneakerheads alike due to its unique, sleek design and a plethora of flashy colorways.

Two iterations of the KD later, Chang and Durant have evolved into the best designer-player tag-team in basketball footwear. Which is how the KD VI you see on the cover of KICKS 16 was born.

Ed’s Note: As I say in my “Sneaker Pimp” column, if you like superduperstars, Nike is the brand for you. KD is just the latest big-time Swoosh representer to be on the KICKS cover (Kyrie, Rajon and LeBron, most recently). But, as ever, we use this special issue to get at all the brands that matter in basketball.

Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook and the Jordan Brand kicks they’ll be wearing this season get love in this issue. The issue profiles Jrue Holiday and Iman Shumpert, who rock official on-court outfitter adidas. Under Armour’s steady growth in hoops gets huge play on our second cover.

Between our First Step section, feature well and always thorough product sections, this issue spotlights all of the above, plus Above The Rim, AND 1, Converse, Li-Ning, Puma, Reebok and many others.

Quite simply, if you like sneaks, you’ll love this issue.

Kevin Durant Covers KICKS 16

Click here to see our other KICKS 16 cover, featuring Under Armour’s Fantastic Four.