Days after Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant delivered a heartfelt acceptance speech for winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award, longtime teammate Nick Collison opened up about what it’s like to share a locker room with KD.
Collison wrote a column for Sports Illustrated detailing Durant the player, as well as Durant the man. Both guys have been teammates dating back to the 2007-08 season—when they were still members of the extinct Seattle SuperSonics.
In seven seasons since the former Texas Longhorn was taken No. 2 overall, Collison has seen the 25-year-old’s maturation process from lanky rookie to MVP winner.
Of his first season playing beside Durant, Collison wrote the following:
What stuck out to me was that he just really wanted to be a basketball player. Some guys come into the league and have these ideas about what they want to do off the court -- to be businessmen and all that. Kevin was all about basketball. He was most comfortable in the gym. He just loved to play ball.
Collison went on to praise Durant’s skill set. Despite being listed at 6’9”, he’s established himself as one of the best perimeter players in the game with ball-handling skills rarely seen from other players his size. Collison wrote, “Sure, there are a lot of big guys who can do more than traditional 7-footers, but the phrase ‘He can handle it like a guard’ is overused. Kevin is different.”
The 33-year-old veteran explained that Durant was merely trying to establish what kind of player he was meant to be during the early stages of his professional career. He’s figured that out and then some, which is why he’s looking to adapt his game by elevating the play of his teammates.
“His goals have changed. He’s focused on winning a championship,” Collison wrote. “He’s naturally introverted, but as he’s gotten older, it’s become more important for him to think, How can I help other guys?”
That adaptation was on full display during his MVP campaign. Durant dished out a career-high 5.5 assists per game and reached double-digit dimes in seven contests overall.
It’s truly miraculous—and a testament to his overall growth as a player—that he was able to help teammates to that degree. He managed to find guys for scores with regularity while also winning his fourth career scoring title behind a career-high 32 points per game.
Despite very clearly being the best player on the roster and the team’s alpha dog, the five-time All-Star doesn’t put himself on a pedestal.
“Kevin is not in a different category than anyone else, either. He allows guys to make suggestions,” Collison wrote. “If I feel like he’s floating a bit in a game or down a bit about a bad start, I can get in his ear and say, ‘You gotta get in a stance,’ or ‘You gotta pick us up.’ And he’ll listen and be open-minded, rather than reacting with the attitude that I’m the MVP, and you’re the role player.”
What Durant is able to do on the court is only half of the equation, though. The biggest takeaway about KD in Collison’s eyes is the type of person he chooses to be off the hardwood:
Thirty years from now, what I’ll remember most about Kevin is how he treated people. … He’s managed to stay true to who he was on that first day I met him seven years ago. He’s still respectful. What you see is who he is. Everybody who works for the Thunder, he works with them, they don’t work for him. We’re all peers.
I’ve got a ton of respect for Kevin Durant. It’s really been an honor to play with him.
While Durant was finally able to get over the hump by winning the first MVP of his illustrious career, the ultimate goal is still to win a championship.
The Thunder are in a dogfight with the Los Angeles Clippers for a chance to advance to the Western Conference Finals. Winning MVP is something that can never be taken away from the sweet-shooting star, but the season would ultimately be viewed as a disappointment if Scott Brooks’ crew can’t reach the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
If nothing else, at least Thunder fans know that team chemistry won’t be an issue. Durant’s sincere speech, coupled with the words of Collison, appears to capture what OKC is all about. No individual is above the team.
Ultimately, it will either win or fall short together. At the very least, it’s hard not to pull for a humble superstar like Durant.