Kevin Wayne Durant was born September 29, 1988 in Washington, D.C. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) He grew up with his older brother Tony in Seat Pleasant, Maryland, just outside the nation’s capitol. They were raised by their mother Wanda Pratt and her mother Barbara Davis.
Their father, Wayne Pratt, left the family before Kevin’s first birthday. He came back into his son’s life when Kevin was around the age of 13. Both parents worked for the government—Wayne for the Library of Congress and Wanda as a postal employee.
Kevin was always the tallest boy in his class—and very self-conscious about his height. His mother asked his teachers to put him at the end of lines, so he wouldn't stand out as much. His grandmother Barbara consoled him, saying that his height was a blessing—just wait and see. Over the years, through all the ups and downs, she would prove to be the family’s rock.
Kevin and his brother loved to play sports. They rooted for the Baltimore-area sports teams, including the Washington Wizards, whose stars included Michael Jordan. Kevin would later meet Jordan after being voted MVP at a high school tournament that bore his name.
Kevin and his brother participated in a wide range of after-school sports at the local Boys & Girls Club. Despite their close relationship, they never played on the same team. In fact, when Tony finished his freshman year at Suitland High School, he decided to blaze his own path. Kevin's older brother transferred to St. John's Military School in Salina, Kansas.
Kevin was a phenomenal young basketball player. His first taste of serious competition came as a member of the Prince George Jaguars, which had AAU teams at every level. The Jaguars won two national championships with Kevin in uniform. His first came at the age of 11, when he scored 18 points in the second half of the final. He was so jazzed after the game that he told his mother he wanted to play in the NBA.
By that time, Kevin had become best buddies with Michael Beasley. Michael's mom was also a single parent. She dropped him off at the Durant's home every day for breakfast. The two boys would then ride the bus to school togther. Along with Chris Braswell, another future NBA player, the three formed the Jauguars’ nucleus. When the team disbanded in 2003, Kevin moved on to the DC Blue Devils, where he teamed with point guard Tywon Lawson, who would go on to win ACC Player of the Year with North Carolina.
Meanwhile, Wanda and AAU coach Taras "Stink" Brown mapped out a program to maximize Kevin’s considerable skills. Brown became like a godfather to Kevin, who followed the plan to a tee. Rule #1 was no pickup games. Though fun, they would only engender bad habits. When Kevin wasn’t playing an organized game, he had a set of drills to perform. He became a practice junkie, normally working out eight hours a day during the summer.
Kevin’s hard work paid off in varsity ball. He played as a freshman and sophomore for Montrose Christian in Rockville, Maryland. The Washington Post named him the area Player of the Year after his second season. It was quite a change from his first year, when his older teammates threatened to stop passing the ball to him. Kevin felt like quitting the team, but he remembered all those extra shifts that his mom had worked to keep food on the table. He stuck it out and earned those precious touches.
After his freshman year, Kevin shot up five inches to 6–8. All the catch-and-shoot drills, the strategy skull sessions, and other fine-tuning with Brown, all aimed at making Kevin a great guard, now turned him into a monster forward.
ON THE RISE
Kevin transferred to basketball factory Oak Hill Academy as a junior, where he joined his former teammate Lawson. Kevin averaged 19.6 points and 8.8 rebounds and was voted a Second Team All-American by Parade Magazine. The following year, Kevin moved on to National Christian Academy, under legendary coach Stu Vetter. There he upped his averages to 23.6 points and 10.9 rebounds. Kevin was named a McDonald’s All-American. He was also honored as co-MVP of the 2006 McDonald’s All-Star Game.
Kevin landed on the radar of virtually every major college hoops program in the country. He looked ready to step into any starting lineup. At 6–9, he retained the quickness and instincts of a point guard. No one in high school could guard Kevin, yet instead of pouring in points, he used his talents to get his teammates involved. Of course, when he needed to score, he simply chose when and how. His shooting and driving skills were unmatched among prep players.
Lawson lobbied hard for Kevin to join him on the Tar Heels. But other forces were at work. Russell Springmann, a Maryland native who worked as an assistant at the University of Texas, had been in contact with Kevin since his freshman year. Ex-Longhorn Maurice Evans, who was playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, trained with Kevin and helped seal the deal. The teenager ended up signing with Texas.
Since taking over the program in 1998, c oach Rick Barnes had rebuilt the Longhorns—he now produced 20-win seasons and NCAA Tournament bids with stunning regulatiry. Springman told Kevin that he would have a great chance to start as a freshman, and that he would likely finish the year in the national spotlight. Texas had a real shot at a record-breaking season in 2006-07.
Kevin took advantage of the school’s renowned strength training program and bulked up over the summer. He turned 18 that September and became a starter with three other first-year players. Kevin was an immediate revelation, ranking among the nation’s Top 10 scorers and rebounders after just a couple of months.
At first Barnes thought about designing plays for Kevin, but he soon realized that this strategy would muffle the freshman’s talents. As long as Kevin was willing to create—and his teammates were willing to let him control the flow of the game—there was almost never a reason to call a set play. By midyear almost everyone who saw Kevin was calling him the best offensive player in the college game.
Kevin poured in nearly 26 points a night and grabbed 11 rebounds. In all, he posted 20 30-point games, and his 390 boards were third-most by a freshman in NCAA history. At the end of March, he was named the AP College Player of the Year. He also won the Naismith and Wooden awards.
The Longhorns finished 25–10. That was good for third in the Big 12 and earned them a Top 20 national ranking. Kevin and A.J. Abrams led the team to the championship game of the Big 12 Tournament. Texas faced Kansas in the final but lost a nail-biter in overtime, 88–84. The Longhorns led the game early by 22 points but could not hold off the Jayhawks. A missed free throw by Craig Winder enabled Kansas to tie the game with a three-pointer in the final moments. Kevin had a chance to win the game on a drive but missed his shot. He finished the game with 37 points.
Texas was given a #4 seed in the East Regional of the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns beat New Mexico State in their first game. But they ran into a buzzsaw in USC in the next round and lost 87–68.
A couple of weeks later, Kevin declared for the NBA draft. Greg Oden did the same, setting up a debate about who should go first. The Portland Trailblazers settled the argument by choosing Oden. Kevin was the second overall pick, by the Seattle Supersonics.
While Oden hurt himself over the summer, Kevin was healthy for the NBA opener of the 2007-08 season. He scored 18 in a loss to the Denver Nuggets. A couple of weeks later, he hit the first game-winner of his pro career, a three-point bomb against the Atlanta Hawks in double-overtime.
Kevin’s cohort on the Sonics was fellow rookie Jeff Green, acquired form the Celtics in a deal that sent Ray Allen to Boston. Both players were named NBA Rookie First Teamers. Green, a fellow forward, was bright and talented. He and Kevin formed the best young frontline duo in the league.
Kevin’s offesnive game fit the NBA perfectly. He was a nightmare match-up for most opponents, and his ability to score from anywhere on the floor opened opportunities for teammates. His final averages as a rookie were 20.3 points and 4.4 rebounds. He shot 43% from the field and 87% from the line. He was an no-brainer for NBA Rookie of the Year.
Kevin’s major adjustment came on the defensive end. Bigger and stronger forwards overpowered him near the basket, while smaller guards were able to drive past him. But his length, quickness and nose for the ball were advantages that he learned to use. By all acounts, Kevin had the skill and work ethic to improve defensively.
The Sonics won just 20 games in 2007-08, but it wasn’t the losing that made headlines. Seattle owner Clay Bennett lobbied unsuccessfully for a new arena. After some legal wrangling, he cut a deal to move the club to his hometown of Oklahoma City. In 2008–09, the team was renamed the Thunder.
In Oklahoma City, Kevin and Green were joined by a third electrifying player, guard Russell Westbrook. Nick Collison, Nenad Krstic, Earl Watson, Thabo Sefolosha and Desmond Mason rounded out the lineup. The club still struggled to win, but the talent began to blend by the end of the season. The Thunder bettered their previous year's record by a handful of victories. Kevin averaged more than 25 points a game on 47.7% shooting and increased his rebounds to nearly seven a night.
The Thunder began their second season with the experts saying they were on the verge of accomplishing something very special. Meeting those expectations became a priority for coach Scott Brooks and his players. In the early part of the season, the Thunder held their own by playing good, solid basketball. Oklahoma City had decided to build around its core; no major players were added through free agency or trades, only some spare parts.
That decision began to look smart by the second half of the year. A nine-game winning streak boosted the Thunder into potential 50-win territory, and they eventually hit that number on the nose, making the playoffs in the process. Their fine season included some impressive performances, most notably blowouts over the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers, and road wins against the Celtics and San Antonio Spurs.
MAKING HIS MARK
Most impressive was Kevin’s contribution. He established himself as the NBA’s most dynamic young leader, hitting huge shots game after game and providing a rallying point for his teammates during times of crisis. Kevin played with remarkable confidence, believing no one in the league could keep him from the basket. Often he was right. Kevin set a franchise record with 29 games in a row of at least 25 points. His seven consecutive 30-point games broke a 38-year-old team mark held by Spencer Haywood.
On the strength of three consecutive 40-point games in April, Kevin finished the year averaging 30.1 ppg. That was good enough to edge LeBron James for the scoring title. At 21 years and 197 days, Kevin became the youngest scoring champ in NBA history. Hiss 2,472 points set a franchise record as well.
Brooks played all of his starters in the weeks leading up to the postseason, even after securing a playoff spot. He felt that this would give this team the best chance to upset the Lakers in the first round. His strategy looked sound when Oklahoma City gave LA all it could handle in an exciting series. After dropping the first two games on the road, the Thunder came back home and notched a pair of victories. Kevin led the team in scoring in both wins and added 19 rebounds in Game 4.
The Lakers won Game 5 on their home floor, before the Thunder nearly pushed the series to seven games. In Game 6, in front of the home fans at the Ford Center, Oklahoma City kept the contest close until the final seconds. Then Pau Gasol scored on a put-back of a Kobe Bryant miss. The bucket gave the Lakers a 95–94 win. Brooks and his players were despondent as they left the floor, especially Kevin, who had a poor shooting night. In time, however, they realized how special their season was.
And what a special player they had in Kevin. In the locker room after Game 6, he told his teammates that next season started right now, that they had to start thinking and working like champions immediately. He also said that painful losses are part of ultimate victory—a team has to go through ups and downs before reaching the pinnacle. Some wisdom for a 21-year-old!
That May, Kevin finished second to James for NBA MVP honors. They were both selected to All-NBA First Team, along with Dwyane Wade, Bryant and Dwight Howard. That started a busy summer for Kevin. In June, he went to China as part of a promotional tour by Nike athletes. In July, he signed a five-year extension with the Thunder. In August, he was the main man for Team USA in the FIBA World Championship. Kevin led the squad to its first gold medal at this competition since 1994, averaging 22.8 points over nine games. He netted 28 in the gold medal game, an 81-64 win over Hedo Turkgolu and the Turkish national team.
As the 2010-11 season opened, Kevin looked forward to defending his scoring championship and getting the Thunder deeper into the postseason. He accomplished both goals. Oklahoma City opened the year with a home win against the Chicago Bulls, another young team on the rise. The Thunder went on to post 55 wins, which easily won the Northwest Division crown. Kevin had another sensational season, leading the league again with a 27.7 scoring average—one point better than James.
Brooks did a great job coaching again, and Westbrook matured as an all-around player. A midseason swap of Green and Kendrick Perkins robbed Kevin of a good buddy, but the deal gave Oklahoma City the presence the club was lacking in the paint.
In the playoffs, the Thunder began their quest for the NBA crown with a hard-fought series against the Nuggets. Oklahoma City won three of the first four games, but Denver didn’t back down. The Nuggets looked strong in Game 5, until the Thunder made a late comeback led by Kevin, who netted 16 points in the final 12 minutes and finished with 41 for the night. Oklahoma City moved on to a match-up with the suprising Memphis Grizzlies.
After dropping two of the first three games of the series, the Thunder found themselves in an unexpected hole. Game 4 was a turning point. It took buzzer-beating shots in regulation and two overtime periods by the Thunder to earn a victory and knot the series in triple-overtime. Oklahoma City followed that with a win in Game 5, but the team failed to close out the series. In Game 6, Kevin had a terrible shooting night, and Memphis won on its homecourt. The pressure was on Kevin and the Thunder heading into Game 7. With all eyes on him, Kevin came through with a marvelous 39-point performance. He attacked the rim, drew fouls and hit all nine of his free throws. The Thunder won 105–90 to advance to the conference finals.
There, Oklahoma City met Dallas. Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs were too much. The Thunder stole Game 2 on the road, but that was the highlight of the series. Dallas swept the next games to advance to the NBA Finals. The Mavs beat the Heat in a thrilling series.
The headlines during the summer of 2011 focused mostly on the labor negotiations between the NBA players and owners. With the NFL in a similar position, the race was on—which league would come to an agreement first? The NFL won and started its season time. The NBA lagged behind and didn’t begin the 2011-12 campaign until December.
Kevin spent his time off working with his personal trainer, Justin Zormelo. They began workouts each morning at 6 and didn’t finish until sometime after dinner. Kevin entered the campaign in the best shape of his life.
The Thunder started the abrreivated season with essentially the same roster from the previous year. Kevin and Westbrook were the heart of the club with James Harden and Serge Ibaka making important contributions. Through the first 40 games, Oklahoma City was the cream of the crop in the West. Kevin’s best effort came against the Nuggets in February when he scored a career-high 51 points. He also lit it up in the All-Star Game, going for 36 points in a 152-149 win by the West.
Projecting young talent in the NBA is a tricky business, but there seems little doubt that Kevin is headed for greatness. He already finds himself the leader of the NBA’s fastest-rising team. All the pieces seem to be falling in place for Oklahoma City, and the team still has plenty of cap room. If everyone stays healthy and happy, the Thunder could roar sooner than anyone expected. And if that's the case, Kevin will be the eye of the storm.
KEVIN THE PLAYER
For a 6–9 player, Kevin has a freakishly large wingspan of approximately 7.5 feet. He uses those long arms to shoot over smaller players. His quickness, on the other hand, allows him to post up larger players. A feathery jumpshooter, Kevin is also superb at attacking the rim. As with most scoring champions, he makes it look easy.
Kevin rebounds and passes well for his age. As a defender, he stays low and understands the position game. With each game, he finds subtle new ways to help his team compete.
In just three NBA seasons, Kevin’s body has matured significantly and should continue to do so. At a rookie combine, he could not bench press 185 pounds. After turning pro, he became a regular in the weight room, and it now shows on the court. Although Kevin still looks whippet-thin, he weighs 220 pounds and can withstand the pounding he takes near the hoop.
Kevin was more of a leader by deed than by word when he entered the NBA. That has changed very quickly. He knows how to inspire on the bench and in the dressing room, without overstepping his authority. Of course, that authority grows with every clutch hoop and 25-point game.
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