Monday, August 9th, 2010 at 11:36 am  |  22 responses

Ready For The World

Two years after being cut from the Olympic team, Kevin Durant’s the leader of Team USA.

Originally published in SLAM Presents WORLD HOOPS 2010 (On Sale Now!)…

SLAM Presents WORLD HOOPS 2010 Kevin Durant Feature


words Lang Whitaker | images Atiba Jefferson

As the machine-generated fog pushed in, and as the ambient light in the cavernous Studio C faded to black, a single, solitary voice rang out: “Grew up in a town that is famous as the place of movie scenes…” Several members of the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem joined in and took to the stage singing “Empire State of Mind,” letting us hear it for New York, New York, New York. Later there would be breakdancers, drummers, even a psychedelic light show to make Roger Waters envious.

It was mid-June, and the eyes of the basketball world were focused on the NBA Finals, where the Lakers were sitting on a 2-1 lead over the Boston Celtics. But here at Pier 59 Studios at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, a multi-media explosion was being staged by Nike and USA Basketball to momentarily fast-forward the focus to later this summer. After the Finals and the impending free agent rodeo, basketball would return with a bang, beginning with the World Basketball Festival and continuing through the World Championships in Turkey. And on this day, Kevin Durant and Yi Jianlian had been invited to the summer kickoff event to rep for the USA and China.

For Durant, the biggest moment of the day wasn’t the lights or the smoke or the music; instead, it was something Colangelo said almost in passing. When pressed about who would be on the USA Basketball roster this summer, Colangelo demurred, noting that it was too early to bank on anyone. Except, he noted, for Kevin Durant. Kevin Durant would definitely be on the team.

“I was surprised,” KD said later. “When [Colangelo] said it I was like, What?! I knew I had a chance to make it, with all the work I’d put in the last three years, and playing with USA Basketball. But for them to say that was kind of like icing on the cake.”

At just 21 years old, Kevin Durant has already been Rookie of the Year, an All-Star, averaged over 30 ppg for a season, won an NBA scoring title, and most importantly to Durant, he’s made the Oklahoma City Thunder a team to be reckoned with in the West.  With a newly signed contract extension worth a reported $85 million, next up for KD is his chance to rock the red, white and blue this summer during the World Basketball Festival and the World Championships. And it’s safe to say Kevin Durant is ready to go.

SLAM: How excited were you to see that USA uniform with DURANT on the back?
KD: I was very excited. I wanted to take it home but they told me I had to leave it here. It’s a dream come true for me to be a part of something like this. I’m so blessed, and I have to continue to be thankful for it and continue to keep working.

SLAM: Are you looking forward to playing the exhibition game outside in the middle of Times Square?
KD: That’s the craziest part. I grew up playing outside, but to play outside in one of the most famous places in the world, that’s going to be big time. I think playing outside made me into the fierce competitor I am today. Because you never want to fall on the ground, of course, because that hurts. And you never want to lose because you have to leave the court. You never want to be the guy who brings his basketball and has them say, ‘Let me use your basketball and you go sit on the side.’ So I didn’t want to be one of those guys. I always worked at my game, and when I got out there I started to get mean. That’s how I developed into the player I am today. That’s why I always go back in the summer, to hone that mean streak that I have. I think tomorrow I’m going to play outside as well. I’m just trying to work on my game.

SLAM: Is there anything specifically you’ve been working on?
KD: Every day I work on my jump shot, that’s one thing that gets me through this League. I’ve been in the weight room, getting stronger. You may not see it, but I’m getting stronger. My overall game, I don’t just work on one thing. I try to get better at everything, try to improve my overall game.

SLAM: What sort of ball did you mostly play when growing up?
KD: A lot of one-on-one, full-court, one-on-one, simulating. I was Michael Jordan a couple of times, Vince Carter. I think that really did help. Because I would go back and watch what those guys do, and try to do it the next day when I played one-on-one with my friends. Basically I was watching film and I was learning. Slowly but surely, each player I was watching, I was taking pieces from their game.

SLAM: What did you learn from losing in the Playoffs this season?
KD: No matter what—how bad you’re shooting, how many turnovers you have—you just have to keep playing because every possession counts. Down 20 or 10 or 5, you  have to keep playing, you have to play through it and do whatever it takes for your team to win. Trying to get stats, all that stuff is out the door. It’s all about winning basketball games, ugly or pretty, it doesn’t matter.

SLAM: You went to camp with USA Basketball before, right?
KD: It was three years ago, right before my rookie season. I got cut from the team out in Vegas, me and Nick Collison actually. It was tough to watch them play after I got cut. Maybe I could’ve done a little more to convince them I should’ve been on the team, but I had to wait my turn. I was cool with that.

SLAM: Could you accept that the guys who made the team were better than you?
KD: No. I’m so competitive, I was upset. Watching the Olympics, I was upset, because I wanted to be there. But that fueled me. I got upset watching the Finals. I got upset watching the Olympics in ‘08. I don’t know why.

SLAM: Because you felt like you belonged there?
KD: Yeah, I think I should be there. I’m selfish, I guess. I want to be the guy that’s helping my team win a championship or helping my team win a gold medal. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that.

SLAM: What did they ask you to improve upon when they cut you?
KD: They just told me to get older. They thought I had a good camp, but seniority is…those guys made the team, and I was OK with that. I knew I had to wait my turn, and it’s been like that for a while. Ever since I was growing up I had to wait my turn, and there’s no difference here. The time has come, I guess.

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  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Love the timing…Great stuff, Lang.

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    A little extra ferment.

  • WangChung

    Love all KD interviews. I doubt this kid has a life outside of ball. The only wack part of the interview is learning that if you play for your country, you can’t even keep the jersey. Surely, there must be an explanation for this.

  • Kundai

    more durant tip leachers. he is a great player but people starting to tip leach.

  • lexluther703

    i wonder if we get the redeem team back, will kd start in 2012? hmmm..

  • funkdoc

    I love the way he’s honest about being selfish and very, very competitive. A lot of guys won’t admit it the way he does, but vagely answer the question with for example another question. There’s no reason why selfish is such a negative word. It’s your life, so I think everybody is a bit selfish. And why wouldn’t we? It gets you to the top, in Durants case.

    So with that in mind, I think Lebron has the right to be selfish too if it gets him a chip. End of discussion.

  • AP

    This is awesome…I am going to the games on Sunday and am pumped…trying to find the schedule for events @ Rucker; also have been hard pressed to find out how one can get tickets for Thursday’s event. Any info would greatly be appreciated…thanks!

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  • http://sdfjklf.com Jukai

    I’d love to play a pickup game with Durant. He seems to real and yet sounds like such a great guy. He’d probably be the one who just downright dominates everyone but still pats you on the back for doing something simple like setting a good screen or grabbing a loose ball.
    Really respectable dude.

  • http://www.threadsandkicks.com.au Eduardo

    Kenny Smith was right about his prediction a year ago, that Durant will be one of the top 3 players in the league in a few years. He’s most probably going to get the scoring title next year and will compete for the MVP. Go the Thunder!

  • LA Huey

    This is going to be exciting. The first clear-cut Alpha Dog ever on a Team USA with NBA players is the most humble and likeable superstar in the league.

  • http://www.slamonline.com/ The Promise

    Can’t wait to watch em dominate the rest of the world. Durant is the next big thing.

  • http://www.stonesthrow.com Michael NZ

    Some of my favourite quotes: “I’m selfish, I guess”, “I heard there’s goaltending”, “when Vince jumped over that guy”, “From Scot Pollard to Michael Jordan”.

  • Charles

    KD probably win the scoring title again because his mates will improve and score more and the Thunder will have more blowout games in which he will sit. But his all around game will change because of maturity and strength. I foresee him getting the ball in the post and creating from there. I think he will be unstoppable from there. Don’t overlook Ibaka and Harden’s improvement. This team could be a monster by the playoffs especially if Aldrich can improve over Collison and Krystic.

  • C.A

    Note to MJ, the great one; this is what ‘being cut’ is ACTUALLY like, not your fake Laney High story.

  • Hubert

    If there was Twitter back in the day, I’d follow JR Rider’s.

  • JoeMaMa

    C.A. – Hater of the day.

  • http://thosefishtacosarethetits.blogspot.com Th3_R3al_Chris

    Best player in the game for the next 10 years.

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  • nickr

    Love the humility and honesty from this kid. It’s great to know team USA will have a leader like KD, both on and off the floor.

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  • http://google c_cantrell

    kudos kd