Saturday, September 3, 2011

The People's Champ

What Kevin Durant has done this Summer is the stuff legends are made of. He has taken his skills to another level and become the NBA's most personable star. This Summer's mammoth display of size, speed, skill, and athleticism has transcended Kevin Durant from top 10 player to the potential best player in the world. More than anything though, Durant's Summer of Dominance has transformed him into the league's most popular and marketable star. He has become a man for the people; not afraid to rub elbows on some of the most rugged courts in the country and further prove that he may just be the most talented player in the world. With so many players fleeing the country and taking time off as a reaction to the league’s impending lockout, Durant has instead taken his game back to its purest form, getting runs in on notable streetball courts and leagues across the country. Durant has had the internet going nuts with an endless stream of highlights and incredible moments that have led him to become “The People’s Champ”.

There’s something special about summer time basketball, especially during a time when the future of the league is in so much jeopardy. Players really have no other option with the cancellation of the Las Vegas Summer League and forbidden team workouts. When ballers take it back to the street a certain energy surrounds the game, one that doesn’t exist during the regular season. Granted, there is no level of competition or better brand of basketball in the world than the NBA. However, when these superstars take it to the blacktop, the player is truly exposed - there is no coach, public relations staff, or management team to protect the player. No one is safe from the hecklers, and with the current state of technology, no action goes unnoticed. When these superstars lace up and hoop with those who may have never gotten their deserved opportunity or just missed the cut, they must bring their game, because everyone out there is trying to make a name for themselves. Street ballers would love nothing more than to be able to tell their grandkids about the time they got the best of an NBA star. No player has answered the call of the blacktop quite like Kevin Durant.

Coming off a stellar season where he took home a second consecutive scoring title and led the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals, Durant could have rightfully taken the summer off, rested his body and travelled the world on vacation. Instead, Durant made himself available and decided that instead of taking any time off, he would touch down across the U.S. and play at some of the most legendary streetball courts and blossom into the league’s most personable player. At Rucker Park, arguably the most reputable street court in the world, Durant dropped 66 points -2 shy of the all time record- and ensured his name would be said in the same breath as legends like Tiny Archibald, Skip to My Lou Alston, Dr. J and countless other ballers who have dominated the Harlem staple. After Durant hit four threes in a row, the crowd became emphatic and rushed the court, surrounding Durant while he basked in the glory. Following that epic performance, he came out a few nights later to play in Nike’s Pro City league. After being heckled throughout the whole game by a ruthless fan, Durant came out of a timeout during the 4th, hit the game tying shot followed by the game winner in overtime; proving that the kid is not only incredibly confident in his game but also has balls of steel. He didn’t stop there though. He took his game across country to LA and played in what was basically an up and coming NBA All Star Game featuring Durant, Brandon Jennings, John Wall, and Demarcus Cousins amongst others. Durant dropped 44 and took home MVP Honors, proving that he is the best young player in a league loaded with young talent.

At a time when the NBA is at an extreme crossroads, where one decision could potentially derail all the success the league has encountered in recent years, Durant has become the face of the NBA and has captured the imagination of fans across the world. The NBA needs Kevin Durant more than Durant needs the NBA. By dominating the summer circuit and creating a strong media buzz he has proven that despite the lockout, players will continue to attract fans no matter where they play, all the while improving their game and image.

Durant seems to be that rare superstar who has all the talent in the world, but also possesses a tremendous sense of humility. Last summer, while a certain superstar announced his contract situation on a highly publicized ESPN special, Durant signed a contract extension with the Thunder and announced it to the world by simply Tweeting, “Extension for 5 more years wit the thunder....God Is Great, me and my family came a long way...I love yall man forreal, this a blessing!" After that, it was back to work, as Durant put together one of the more impressive runs in recent history by dominating the FIBA World Championships while leading the United States to a gold medal victory. After tearing through the world championships, it seemed as if Durant only got better as he led the Thunder to 55 wins and a second consecutive playoff birth, where their youth and inexperience eventually caught up to them and they fell to the eventual World Champion Mavs.

It seems as if Durant is unmoved by all the hype and attention around him. While some players in his position use their fame and stardom to bask in the ambiance and let the attention inflate their ego, Durant only seems to be concerned with one thing: winning championships, and winning them as soon as possible. At 22, Durant has been blessed with an incredible array of talent and skills. At 6’11” he has the scoring ability of George Gervin, a picturesque shooting stroke, and has improved defensively each season since his rookie year. It’s scary to think that Durant may just be putting all the pieces together, and as he continues to get stronger and gain experience, it looks like the sky is the limit.

If history is any indicator, the time is now for Durant and the rest of the young, super talented Thunder squad. With a talent like Durant surrounded by fellow All Star Russell Westbrook, emerging two guard James Harden, and defensive stalwarts like Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, the West could be the Thunder’s to lose. With the Lakers in disarray, and veteran heavy teams like the Mavs and Spurs, the only team that may be able to stop the Thunder are the Thunder themselves. This team has become battle tested over the last two seasons and like all great teams, they have experienced disappointment and heartbreak that will undoubtedly make them come back hungrier whenever the NBA resumes. While Durant wraps up his summer wearing his championship belt, we as fans can only hope the NBA doesn’t rob us of what promises to be an incredible season.

Peter Walsh is a published writer for SLAM magazine, follow him on twitter

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