Kevin Durant wants you to know he's as fierce a competitor as you'll find on the hardwood, but he's just as comfortable admitting he's also a good dude.
Bleacher Report: When you were coming up, did you have figures that influenced you to give back through things like the Strong and Kind movement? Who were those people, and what did you take from them?
KD: Growing up, I was in one of those environments where everybody just wants to be tough. As a kid, if you cried or if you didn't like something, you weren't tough enough. I was a different kid growing up, and I wanted to show everybody love but also let them know I was a fierce competitor and that I had an edge. But I also wanted to be nice to people.
When you play sports competitively, you get called soft for that. But as I started to get more comfortable and more secure with myself, I started to realize that it's OK to be both. So that's what I try to emphasize to people, and I try to live it. It's easy to talk about it, but I also try to lead by example.
I learned a lot from my godfather and my coaches that showed me so much love and care. No matter what I've been through or what I did, they were always there for me unconditionally, and that showed me how kind and strong they were to do that. It takes a lot for a person to take care of themselves and take care of somebody else. That spoke volumes to me.
B/R: One of those coaches, David Adkins, had an influence on you coming up, and it's got to make you feel good to see him get an NBA job, right?
Note: Adkins, an assistant coach when Durant played at Montrose Christian Academy in Maryland, was recently hired as a player development coach with the Washington Wizards, per Michael Lee of The Washington Post.
KD: Yeah, I know where you're going with this one...but, nah, Coach Adkins was a guy who displayed to me that as I started to get older as a teenager, getting into my young man years at 17 or 18 years old, that it was cool to care about other people, and it was cool to be sensitive to other people's feelings. I saw that on the basketball court, and he taught me a lot. And I'm very excited that he gets his dream job to work with the highest level of basketball players. So I'm happy for him.
B/R: When do you start gearing up for next year?
KD: I'm excited about next year. It's another opportunity for me to play this game at a high level, and I've been working out since a couple days after the Finals. I took some time off to rest my body and re-energize and get my mind right. I've been going hard and just trying to add everything to my game, from post-ups to jump shots to ball-handling.
I've been in the weight room a lot, so hopefully it pays off for me.
B/R: Heading into your eighth year, I know you put more pressure and higher demands on yourself than anybody, but it seems to me like you don't get the same kind of "win a championship now, now, now" pressure that guys like LeBron James have had to face. Do you see that too, and if you do, why do think that is?
KD: I think coming out of high school, everybody from the outside put so much pressure on LeBron, calling him The King, calling him all these other things, really acting like you thought he was inhuman.
And I think that was unfair for him because you put so many high expectations on him to do things that took time. It took him time to do some stuff—to win MVPs and win championships. And when he messed up and people realized he was human. Everybody just thought he was on another level from everybody else—which he is on the basketball court—but, you know, when it took him some time to actually do stuff it caught everybody off-guard.
That's when they started to criticize him because they look at him as such an alien on the basketball court that he can't make a mistake, or he can't mess up, or he has to win every single year. You guys put so many lofty expectations on him, that's why I think he got so much pressure.
For me, I think people know that I'm human, that I make mistakes. It took me some time. I'm not the strongest guy in the league. I didn't come in as some prototypical basketball player. I had to work my way up from the bottom. I didn't come in with so many crazy expectations. I wasn't a child phenom—none of that stuff.
I guess people looked at me as human.
That's my take on it. I may be wrong, but that's how I look at it.
B/R: How do you feel about the Thunder this year, how the roster stands and the direction you're going right now?
KD: With the Thunder, we all have the mindset that we want to get better and keep growing, but we also know that we want to win championships. We know we have to continue to keep working and we're putting in that work to be the best.
I like what we got. Russell [Westbrook], myself and Serge [Ibaka]—I like our core. We added some young guys and added some vets. I like what we got.
B/R: Who's the toughest guy for you to cover one-on-one?
KD: Carmelo [Anthony].
B/R: Who's the toughest defender you've faced?
KD: Tony Allen.
B/R: Who wins in a shootout, you or new Thunder signee Anthony Morrow?
KD: He probably would beat me in a shootout, but HORSE...HORSE...I got too many trick shots for A-Mo. So I'll win that one.
B/R: Is anyone in the league as fast, end to end, as Westbrook?
B/R: The Thunder will have had a successful season this year if...?
KD: We stay healthy.
B/R: How often do people ask you to join their Framily, and how annoying does that get?
Kevin Durant: (laughing) Oh, man. It happens at least two or three times a day. And yes, it's become very annoying, but I'm used to it now.
B/R: Do they ever ask if you can introduce them to that kid in the treehouse?
KD: Oh yeah.
B/R: Fill me in on the Strong and Kind movement and what you're doing through your foundation to promote it.
KD: With the Strong and Kind movement, we're really just trying to show that it's all right to be strong and kind because people don't really put those two words in the same sentence sometimes. We want to let kids know that it's all right to be both.
"Strong" isn't about being a bully or a tough guy. It's about helping others, standing up for others and standing up for yourself. We decided to come up with this camp and this movement to spread the word basically, man, and it's just fun to be a part of it.
I always try to show people that I can be a nice guy and still be competitive and have an edge—and play the game with that edge, so it's pretty cool to be a part of.