As a part of mythologizing the NBA's superheroes, we have a tendency to reduce them to their simplest terms. Complex people are turned to caricatures per the characters they play on our television screen.
And so LeBron James becomes solely arrogant, Derrick Rose becomes purely humble, and Kevin Durant is cast as the basketball-loving assassin. We pretend that these tropes give us a firm grasp of who each of these players are as people, but rarely can anyone be reduced to such marginal descriptors with any real accuracy.
That alone is a reason why I'm quite thankful for the fine work of the league's committed profilers, who manage to bring a third dimension to the images we've propped up. Sam Amick recently dug a bit into Durant's basketball past for Sports Illustrated, and uncovered some trials that nearly took a man committed to his craft away from the game forever:
The NBA would go on without Kevin Durant, but it certainly wouldn't be the same. [...]
There were times during Durant's early years in Seat Pleasant, Md., when this was a possibility, when the gangly kid who wasn't sure he was good enough nearly gave up his future profession because, well, it was already feeling like the job he didn't want. It was a dark chapter in his otherwise-blissful basketball life, a stretch of about two years when he occasionally questioned if all the work was worth it and considered quitting more than once.
Amick goes on to describe Durant's early training difficulties in much greater detail, shining light on the youth of a player who—like many with a passion, I'd suspect—initially waffled in his commitment to his greater calling. And though learning more about Durant specifically is of great value in coming to terms with one of the giants of the game, the greater payoff here is in the exercise itself.
Durant wasn't always the ideal worker. He wasn't always a perfect teammate. He was young, lacked commitment, and sought to reject a game that didn't open up its doors to him. He was imperfect, just like James, just like Michael Jordan, and eventually like heroes primed for refocusing like Rose.
Even with Twitter, pos-game interviews, and games worth of captured behavior, we still don't know guys like Durant and James as anything more than bottled bits of their most superficial selves. Yet still we cast judgment on them, one way or another. With KD, almost all of that judgment to date has been positive, and there's truly nothing in Amick's piece that would make people think otherwise.
But I can only hope that profiles of this nature—much like Lee Jenkins' fantastic profile of LeBron James, also for SI—at least illuminate the fact that circumstances are almost always more complicated than they seem.
The identities of basketball players—and of all people—are entirely dynamic, and the more we see depth and detail in the narratives of the NBA's most prominent players, the less dramatic those eventual shifts in perception will turn out to be.