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WEDNESDAY, MAY 14, 2014

THE OKLAHOMAN

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THE OKLAHOMAN | NEWSOK.COM

KEVIN DURANT COMMEMORATIVE SECTION

WEDNESDAY, MAY 14, 2014

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WEDNESDAY, MAY 14, 2014

KEVIN DURANT COMMEMORATIVE SECTION

THE OKLAHOMAN | NEWSOK.COM

Best of the

Kevin Durant archives

THE STORY BEHIND A JERSEY AND KEVIN DURANT’S DEVOTION TO HIS COACH BY DARNELL MAYBERRY Staff Writer dmayberry@opubco.com

PHOTO BY TABIUS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN

PHOTO BOOTH FUN Before the season, 11-year-old Tabius Landsberger, the son of Oklahoman photographer Chris Landsberger, sat each of the Thunder players down for some photos. Scan the QR code at right to see a full gallery of them. I How it was done: We set Tabius up with a camera, backdrop and light. From there he was in complete control of the shoot. When players arrived, he greeted them with a handshake and then directed them to sit on the chair. He told them that he was going to do a photo booth-type shoot, and that he was only going to take four photos. He told them that they could act just like they were in a photo booth — the photos could be serious, happy, mad or funny. The players ran with it and had some fun being a kid with the youngest photographer to ever take part in media day.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published March 24, 2010 Kevin Durant’s face turned hard and his eyes welled up. He gazed straight ahead as he reflected on the man he affectionately referred to as "Big Chucky.” Charles Craig was supposed to be by Durant’s side — when he signed his letter of intent to Texas, continuing the basketball jones Craig first created, and when he sat in the Green Room on the night of the 2007 NBA Draft, eagerly counting down the final moments before he fulfilled his dream as the No. 2 overall pick. "It just didn’t happen,” murmured a melancholy Durant last week. Craig was Durant’s first basketball coach. He died on April 30, 2005, in Laurel, Md., the victim of multiple gunshot wounds. He was 35. Since his freshman season at the University of Texas, Durant has worn jersey No. 35 in honor of Chucky. "I just want as many people as I can to know why I wear it and the significance of the number,” Durant said. "That’s my goal is to get him out there and keep his name alive.” Durant is forcing fans to take notice, as he continues to flourish into one of the game’s greats. The third-year forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder is the league’s leading scorer at 29.7 points per game. His 29 straight games of 25 points or more commanded daily headlines from mid-December to late February. Since 1986-87, only Michael Jordan has had a longer streak. And Durant, a first-time All-Star last month, has his team on an improbable pace to make the playoffs following last season’s 23 wins. As Durant sat courtside following a recent shoot-around, he mulled over his milestones, how far he’s come and the man who initiated it all. Durant’s speech slowed. His eyes began to mist. "It’s a touchy subject for me, but I do it for him,” he said. Durant met Craig as an 8-yearold newcomer to the Seat Pleasant Recreational Center, a one-level, multi-purpose building sitting in the Maryland suburbs that neighbor Washington, D.C. The wantto-be player instantly took a liking to the heavyset but jovial coach. Durant learned the game’s basics from Craig, and hours in the gym soon fostered a relationship beyond basketball. "It was days where I spent the whole day with him,” Durant remembered. They’d go to basketball games and to the movies. When Durant needed pocket money or a meal, Craig was there. Durant, now a multi-millionaire, drives a conversion van partly because of fond memories of piling into Craig’s van with teammates and traveling to games. On one such trip, Durant’s youth league team journeyed to

More memorable Durant stories on NewsOK Want to read more of The Oklahoman’s Kevin Durant stories from over the years? Scan the QR code at right to get links to some of our favorites, like ‘Team Durant celebrates,’ which is excerpted below.

TEAM DURANT CELEBRATES (originally published June 7, 2012) Kevin Durant wanted to celebrate with his team. Not the team in home white. Oh, the Thunder superstar celebrated plenty with his teammates on Wednesday night. But in the waning seconds of game like no other Oklahoma City has ever seen, Durant wanted a moment with his other team. Team Durant. On a night that will leave Oklahoma City with plenty of memorable moments, none was more special than his family's group hug. Durant walked over to his mom and his brother and wrapped them in a big ol' bear hug. Everyone was crying. “Then I thought, ‘I hope we didn't celebrate too soon,'” Durant's mom, Wanda Pratt, said. No worries. Thunder 107, Spurs 99.

Charlotte, N.C. With Durant’s mother, Wanda Pratt, tied down with work, Durant slept over at Craig’s house the night before the team departed. The hospitality went a long way in Durant’s eyes. Craig was the type of neighborhood coach who kicked in his own money to make up the difference for kids unable to cover the costs of jerseys. And the fullfigured man with the braided hair always was positive. As one parent described Craig in the Maryland Gazette following his death, "He made every child feel like a star...He was the only coach I know that made you feel great even when you lost a game.” Durant’s skills and reputation grew, but his loyalty to Craig never wavered. Despite evolving into a can’t-miss high school prospect, Durant always returned to Seat Pleasant to play for Coach Craig. Until he didn’t. When Durant got wind of the news of Craig’s death, he was a junior at prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in southwestern Virginia. Durant went into a state of shock. "I didn’t know what to think,” Durant said. "I thought it was a joke.” Durant still isn’t clear on what exactly happened. As Durant heard it, Craig was outside an apartment complex shooting the breeze with friends when an altercation broke out. The chaos subsided, but hours later, gunfire rang out. Craig, dressed in a yellow shirt, was easily spotted and assumed to be a participant in the earlier dispute. According to Prince George’s County Police Department records, officers responded to the 12600 block of Laurel-Bowie Road at approximately 3 a.m. at the sound of gunfire. Upon arrival, the police found the yellow-shirted victim in the parking lot. He was transported to a local hospital and pronounced dead. Charles Craig had been shot multiple times in the upper body, according to police records. "He’s a person that died for no reason,” Durant said. Records show that the PG County Police charged Terrell Bush, then a 24-year-old Laurel, Md., resident, with first-degree murder. Nearly five years later, Durant’s

No. 35 jersey that honors Craig has become the NBA’s 15th best selling jersey, ahead of fellow All-Stars Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh and Deron Williams. More and more, fans in visiting cities attend Thunder games sporting Durant’s jersey. Every so often, Durant glances into the stands and becomes filled with joy at the sight. "Without them knowing, they’ve got a piece of Chuck on,” Durant said. The University of Texas last year retired Durant’s No. 35 jersey, hanging it in the rafters alongside only two other former Longhorns. Durant even initiated a movement to get players from his hometown to honor Craig in the same fashion. His brother, Tony, wore No. 35 for Towson last season. Chris Braswell, a freshman at UNC-Charlotte, wears 35 for the same reason. Braswell’s official bio lists Craig as his deceased father, but Durant said Braswell was so close to Craig that the coach was "like his dad.” Dwight Bell, a junior at Shaw University in North Carolina, wore No. 35 at Gloucester County Community College in Sewell, N.J., before transferring to Shaw only to see the number already taken. "It feels good to see a lot of 35s from the people I know,” Durant said. "It shows that every time we step between the lines, where he taught us how to be tough, how to go out there and play with passion and play with heart, even though he’s up there he’s living his dreams through us on the basketball court.” In a day in age where stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James (who will wear No. 6 next season) change numbers primarily for marketing purposes, Durant proudly wears his No. 35 for the most genuine of reasons. "If he would have died when he was 47 years old, I would have switched my number to 47,” Durant assured. "It’s all about doing it for somebody I love. It’s not about what’s the better number and what looks better on me. It’s all about him. "He was just a caring and loving person that everybody would love to meet. Every time I step on that floor, I do it to win games and make him proud.”

THE OKLAHOMAN | NEWSOK.COM

KEVIN DURANT COMMEMORATIVE SECTION

WEDNESDAY, MAY 14, 2014

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Carlson FROM PAGE 8S

yard after hearing the commotion. But Ford had taken the worst of it. The family rushed to the hospital in Enid, and almost immediately, Ford was airlifted to OU Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City. His larynx was crushed, caused by blunt and penetrating trauma. His trachea was punctured in three places. In an attempt to let those wounds heal, Ford was placed in a medically induced coma. He was paralyzed and sedated for five days. One night, his lung collapsed, and he had to be bagged so that he could breathe. Tiffany and Brian thought they might lose him. A couple of years later, Tiffany and Ford were looking at some pictures of his time in the hospital. Ford suddenly said that he remembered a story about being there. “I remember I was way up high and you and daddy were way down low,” he said. “I could hear you and see you, but you couldn’t see me.” “What?” Tiffany asked, stunned. “There was a little boy up there trying to help me. And I thought you were going to leave me.” Tiffany has since read the book, “Heaven Is for Real,” which recounts a similar experience. But at the time, neither she nor her boys had, so it wasn’t as if Ford was recounting something he’d heard elsewhere. No one is sure what happened to Ford, but the morning after his lungs collapsed, a nurse came in and told Tiffany and Brian that Ford had a small

Ford Smith, center poses for a photo with his brother, Parker, and parents, Brian and Tiffany.

Thunder forward Kevin Durant poses for a photo with Ford Smith, center, and his brother, Parker. PHOTO PROVIDED

laceration on the bridge of his nose. It was in the shape of a cross. A couple days later, Ford moved from ICU to a regular room. And a couple days after that, he

went home. But before the Smiths left the hospital, they were talking about what they were going to do once Ford was released. Among their plans was a trip to see the Thunder

play. Both of the boys were big sports fans — Brian is the football coach at CovingtonDouglas High School — and a trip to The Peake seemed like a good way to celebrate what they’d survived. One of the nurses caught wind of their plans. She happened to also work as an in-arena paramedic during games, so she told a couple of the Thunder representatives who she knew about Ford. Would it be possible for him to meet KD? The request was taken to Durant as well as Russell Westbrook, both of whom agreed, and after the game, the Smiths met the superstars. Durant had family and friends

PHOTO BY CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN

there in the arena waiting on him, but he came over and shook hands with everyone in the family, asked about what had happened, then passed basketballs back and forth with the boys. He posed for a photo and signed the basketballs before saying goodbye. The boys were almost speechless, but afterward, they couldn’t stop talking about the whole thing. “Did you see how big his hands were?” they marveled. “Did you see how long his fingers were?” Since that night, there has been more surgery for Ford, including one in Boston with a doctor who has repaired vocal cord damage on the likes of Adele and Keith Urban.

Ford has scar tissue between his vocal cords that keeps them from coming all the way together and makes it so that he can’t change the pitch of his voice much. He’ll likely have more surgeries on that as he gets older and his voice starts to change. But amid tough times, that meeting with KD will forever be a great memory. Those minutes were precious. “You see him as such a star,” Tiffany said, “but to see them step down and just be a person is really humbling. “It meant a lot.” Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.

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KEVIN DURANT COMMEMORATIVE SECTION

THE OKLAHOMAN | NEWSOK.COM

Ford Smith was attacked by a neighbor's dog in December 2010. He suffered from a punctured trachea and permanent vocal cord damage, and spent 9 days in ICU at OU children's hospital. One of his nurses who worked as a paramedic for Oklahoma City Thunder games was nice enough to arrange an after game visit with Kevin Durant after Ford was released from the hospital. PHOTO BY CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN

KD AND ME

KEVIN DURANT’S IMPACT ON OKLAHOMA IS SUCH THAT IT SEEMS ALMOST EVERYONE HAS THEIR OWN STORY OF A BRUSH WITH KEVIN. FORD SMITH’S IS BOTH TYPICAL AND ONE IN A MILLION.

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ord Smith doesn’t have much to say about the time he met Kevin Durant. “It was cool,” he said. But the fact that the 7-yearold can say anything at all is a triumph. A little over three years ago, Ford was the victim of a vicious dog attack. The animal went for his throat, crushing his larynx and puncturing his trachea. It nearly killed him and left him with voice problems that linger still. After a long hospital stay and amid an even longer recovery, the little boy got to meet the Thunder superstar. He’s hardly the only one to have a KD encounter. In the glow of Durant’s MVP award, the world has come to know about the good guy in the No. 35 jersey. But Oklahomans have known about that side of

Jenni Carlson jcarlson@ opubco.com

COMMENTARY

KD for years. They have seen it in big and small ways, from his $1 million donation to tornado relief in Moore to his chance meetings with fans all around the state. Seems like everyone has a KD-and-me story. And Durant’s meeting three years ago with Brian and Tiffany Smith and their boys, Parker and Ford, is typical. It was done quietly, without fanfare, it was heartfelt and genuine, and it resonated the folks with whom he crossed paths. “It was only five minutes,” Brian said, “but it was well worth it to my kids.”

SLIDESHOW Click the QR code at right to see a slideshow of KD and me photos at NewsOK.com

A few months earlier, Ford was playing in the yard at the family’s house in Covington, a tiny town 20 minutes east of Enid. He and older brother Parker were riding inside a toy police car when the neighbor’s dog busted through the gate. It went after Ford. “He basically went straight for his throat,” Tiffany said. Parker ran to find their dad, Brian, who pulled the dog off of Ford. It then bit Brian and Parker and Tiffany, who’d run into the SEE CARLSON, PAGE 9S

FAN ENCOUNTERS WITH KEVIN DURANT A HUSBAND’S LAST COMPLAINT ABOUT LONGHORN PRIDE

of our games, sticking around press row and even visiting quite a while after the game was over, clearly in no hurry to leave. When KD was hanging with all of us, I’m thinking, “One of the best players in the NBA and a future MVP and champion is just chilling like a complete normal person.” As an SID, when I’m in my element, I try to stay professional, but in my mind, I’m thinking how cool this really is.

By Tori Raines University of Texas graduate, Oklahoma City Lots of Oklahomans have had chance encounters with Thunder superstar Kevin Durant. Here are a few of their stories: I’m a Texas graduate who moved to OKC in 2006. As a Texas transplant, I kept Longhorn stickers on my vehicle for several years. My husband — an OU grad — used to gripe at me when we would drive places that he’d get some dirty looks or honks and how unfair it was since he was a Sooner. One day, we were on Northwest Expressway, and we heard loud honking. Hubby rolled his eyes and said, “Gee, thanks, Tori. Your dumb stickers have done it again.” Then, we looked out the window and there’s Kevin, windows rolled down on his Maybach, shooting us the Horns, yelling, “Yay! Hook ‘Em!” and grinning ear to ear. That was the last time my husband complained about my Longhorn pride. I’ve had the chance to see a game from courtside, and I’m not gonna lie, there was a tiny glimmer of hope Kevin would see me and think, “Hey, there’s that nice fellow Longhorn!” Obviously, that didn’t happen, but I do still tell everyone about my run-in with greatness.

court … and saw me fall. He came over, “You OK?” I had my finger against my chest, holding it against my chest, knew I’d broke it. I said, “Well, I think I broke my finger.” He goes, “Let me take you back to the trainer. … I insist. You come back with me.” I told him, “Who am I to turn down the leading scorer in the NBA?” I followed him back to the trainers’ area. We had small talk along the way. He leaves at a table … and goes back to look for the trainer. He brings the trainer out and says, “OK, take care, man.” He went on his way and left me with the trainer. Someone asked me to give them one word of who KD is. I said, “Genuine.”

COMING TO THE AID OF AN INJURED CAMERAMAN

GOING TO THE MOVIES TO FIND OUT ‘KEVIN IS FOR REAL’

By Mark Voyles Freelance television cameraman, Oklahoma City We were striking our cables because the TV truck goes to another arena. I was walking just between the visitors TV announcers’ position and the visitors’ bench … and I tripped. Sometimes, the stands aren’t put together very well. A little tiny rise. It was so stupid. But I tripped on it. Luckily, the cleaning crew was being proficient. I went face first into a bag of trash. But on the way down, I tried to catch myself on the chairs. And I caught my finger somehow … and broke my ring finger on my right hand. About that time, KD was out on the

By Ali Cameros Oklahoma City Last month, some of my friends and I decided to watch “Heaven Is for Real” at Harkins Theater in Bricktown. Once inside, we noticed there was a group of people that seemed very excited. I turned to see what the fuss was about, and to my surprise, it was the one and only Kevin Durant. Keeping my cool, I asked for a picture and made a little conversation with him. When I asked what movie was he there to watch he said, “Heaven Is for Real”. Never did I think he was going to sit behind me. I love his humbleness and his love for Christ. He is a true leader in every way.

THE DAY DURANT CAME TO MOORE Thunder forward Kevin Durant poses for a photo with Thunder fan Ali Cameros. PHOTO PROVIDED

Thunder forward Kevin Durant, left, toured a southwest Oklahoma City neighborhood that took a direct hit during last year’s F5 tornado. PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES

I can say my year has been made. When I am around friends watching a game, I make sure to brag about it just a bit.

THE ‘BIGGEST’ MID-AMERICAN CHRISTIAN BASKETBALL FAN By Levi Convirs Newcastle I’ve had the privilege of being around Kevin Durant multiple times in the last four years. I’m the sports information director at Mid-America Christian University, and for three seasons, we had Camilo Valencia as our point guard, who was James Harden’s roommate. Harden came to quite a few of our games along with KD, Russell Westbrook, Eric Maynor. KD was extremely gracious to everyone who came up to him. When he first came to the gym, it was at our scrimmage against Connors State, and there was a huge buzz when he walked in. I was up top trying to get the camera to work, but it didn’t take long when I came down to know what the buzz was about. At first I thought it was really cool having all of them here, but I figured they’d leave as soon as the game was over to avoid the rush. To the contrary, they stuck around quite a while and made sure to greet everyone that came up to them. KD did the same thing at another one

By Tim Kraeger A recently retired Oklahoma City police officer who lost his home in the May 20 tornado last year The day of the storm, I was on duty. My wife, her mom who’s 82 and my 18-year-old son were inside the house. I knew what was happening, and I knew when I was at work that the storm kind of went right through my house. Our house was at 204 SW 145th Street. There was very little left. The storm was on Monday. We didn’t even go over there on Tuesday, and then … Wednesday afternoon … I bet we weren’t two hours or three hours into it when Kevin showed up. There were some people from the Thunder helping me. I worked the Thunder games. I knew Kevin a little. Not a whole bunch. But I’d met him before. I dang sure didn’t expect Kevin Durant to come walking up. That was a shock. Probably about 25 to 30 minutes, we talked, him encouraging us. He said sorry, and I told him, “It’s all right. You just pick yourself up and move on. That’s the second one I had that destroyed one of my houses.” I had May 3. It meant a lot. It’s Kevin Durant. He’s here at our house. It offers inspiration. It offers that there’s hope. He didn’t have to walk through those neighborhoods. They dropped everything they were doing because Kevin Durant was there. It made them forget what was going on for a little bit. Even if it was 20 minutes, it was 20 minutes they didn’t have to feel sorry that all this happened to them. It was a bright spot for them for that day.

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KEVIN DURANT COMMEMORATIVE SECTION

THE OKLAHOMAN | NEWSOK.COM

THE OKLAHOMAN | NEWSOK.COM

KEVIN DURANT COMMEMORATIVE SECTION

WEDNESDAY, MAY 14, 2014

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AFTER BEING NAMED THE NBA MVP ON TUESDAY, KEVIN DURANT SPOKE FOR 26 MINUTES, THANKING GOD, TEAMMATES, COACHES, FAMILY AND OTHERS. HERE IS THE FULL TEXT OF THAT SPEECH.

I had so much help. So many people believed in me ... When I walked into the gym, I fell in love with the game. Everyone told us we weren’t supposed to be here. Basketball is just a platform in order for me to inspire people ...

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as you think I’m making you better, you’re elevating my game. Reggie when I first met you, you didn’t say two words to me. I didn’t know who you were, but we instantly clicked. You became one of my best friends, man. Words can’t explain how much I care about you, your well-being, how you’re feeling. Not even just basketball, but off the court, making sure you’re alright. You’re such a humble person, man. You do everything for the team. You always put yourself last and I learn a lot from you. Thank you, man. Thank you.

ow. Wow. Thank you guys so much. I’m usually good at talking, but I’m a little nervous today.

First off, I’d like to thank God for changing my life. It let me realize what life is really all about. Basketball is just a platform in order for me to inspire people and I realize that. I come from a small county outside of Washington D.C. called PG County. Me, my mom, my brother — we moved so many different places growing up. It felt like a box. It felt like there was no getting out. My dream was to become a rec league coach. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to stay home and help the kids out and be a coach. I love basketball so much, I love playing it. I just never thought I would make it to college, (the) NBA or stand up here today in front of you guy and be the NBA MVP. It’s just a surreal feeling.

Steven, Big Kiwi. I didn’t know who you were when you first got here, but you made me realize with the screens you set in practice … you elbow me when I come down the lane. You let your presence be known, man, and you’re just such a fun, spirited person. Never change who you are, man. You mean a lot to me. You inspire me, too. You’ve been through so much at a young age and I relate to that. I know your story. I don’t really talk about it a lot, but I know. Keep being who you are, man, because you’re a hell of a person. Thank you.

I had so much help. So many people believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. So many people doubted me and motivated me every single day to be who I am. I fell so many times and got back up. I been through the toughest times with my family, but I’m still standing. In the game of basketball, I play first off because I love it. I love to have fun. I love to run up and down the court. I told Grant Hill back there — I just got done playing against him — as a second grader I had a Pistons Grant Hill jersey. That was the first time I walked into a gym. That’s when I fell in love with the game. My mom, I think she just wanted to get me and my brothers out of the house for a couple hours. When I walked into the gym, I fell in love with the game. I didn’t fall in love with it just because it was me playing. I fell in love with it because I’ve got guys like this — like these guys every single day that push me to be the best that I can be. I want to single them out. Vets of this team. Fish, Nick, Perk, Thabo, Caron, Serge, Hasheem. I just want to say thank you to you guys, man. Y’all mean so much to me just because I could walk in and have a terrible day and I can see Hasheem smiling at me at 7-3 with small pants on. That’ll change my day. Or I can see Fish, just a button-up like a mayor, like a president. Just demands so much from his teammates, has played with so many great players but still respects everybody. He’s 38 years old — nothing else to prove — I said, “Fish, you want to come get some shots with me?” First thing he says is “yes” because he always wants to learn even though he’s done so much in this league, played with so many great players. He always wants to learn and that motivated me to know that it’s never a point where you can stop getting better. He’s the guy that made me realize that. Perk, from the minute you got here … I hated you before you got here. The moment you got here, man, you just changed my whole perception of you. Just one of the best teammates I ever had. I just thank you so much. The late night calls after tough games, you texting me, telling me I’m the MVP. That means a lot to me, man. Thank you. Sorry. I’m going to keep going.

PHOTOS BY BRYAN TERRY AND CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN

Nick, you know, the first guy I met when I first got to Seattle as an 18-year-old. You took me in. You believed in me from the beginning. You knew that I had potential. Every single day, I know I can look at you and know that you respect me as a man, as a player and you’re going to ride with me to the end. And I thank you. Thabo, when you came to the team, man, I didn’t know if you spoke English or not, so I didn’t know how to approach you. You were always so quiet, but I could tell you were about the team first. You came in and you went to work from Day 1. You also believed in me, always gave me confidence. When I’m having a tough stretch, you always come to me and hit me on my chest, just tell me “let’s go,” and I know what that means from you. I appreciate you so much, man. You being here, being a part of this journey with me means a lot. I thank you. Caron, even though you just got here a few months ago we’ve grown so close over these last few weeks and I can remember when you first got here you wrote a piece of paper in my locker … I don’t know why I’m crying so much, man … you wrote a piece of paper in my locker and it said, “KD MVP.” And that was after we lost two or three straight. I don’t really say much in those moments, but I remember that. I go home and I think about that stuff, man. When you got people behind you, you can do whatever. I thank you, man. I appreciate you. Serge, my ex-next door neighbor. You still can’t speak English, but I know what you’re talking about. Our relationship is definitely like a brother relationship where I squared up with you one day in practice

ready to fight you. The next day as soon as we got back into the locker room, we were hugging. We were talking about how we were going to be better the next game. And when Russell was out, you stepped your game up for me, for the team. There were nights where you made me look way better than I am. You clean up so many of our mistakes, man, and we appreciate that. From everybody on the team, I know we appreciate that, man, and I thank you so much for giving me confidence when I didn’t have it, for always being there when I wanted to talk to you, when I wanted to call, for arguing with me all the time, making me better and realizing I’m not always right. Thank you, man. I appreciate you. I can’t forget about my young guys. We had a group text after Game 5 and I forgot to put my young guys in there and they felt some type of way about it. Jeremy, Perry, Andre, Steve and Reggie, Grant. You guys make me so much better without even knowing, man, because I know I set an example for y’all. I know there are days where I have my bad days. I say some words I’m not supposed to say sometimes, but when I need an extra push, you guys are there, man. I appreciate that. I appreciate that because I’m not always the best leader. I’m not always the best player. I don’t always shoot the best in the games. But our little handshakes we do before games, that gets me going. Andre, you are one of my favorite teammates ever and I thank you so much, man. Your spirit, just your smile. It means a lot to me. Perry, Jeremy … man, just knowing you guys look up to me and I can help you out so much. I can pull you to the side when we’re working out and just as much

Grant, when we drafted you, once again I didn’t know who you were. But when we got together in the summer time, I seen how talented you were. I seen how much you wanted to learn and I wanted to be onpoint every single day because I know how much you were watching me. I thank you for your support, just your kind heart, your spirit, everything, man. I appreciate you. Even though you’ve been here for a few weeks, you mean so much to our team. I’m glad you’re a part of it. I love all you guys. I know you guys think I forgot Russ. But I could speak all night about Russell. An emotional guy who will run through a wall for me. I don’t take it for granted. There’s days when I just want to tackle you and tell you to snap out of it sometimes, but I know there’s days when you want to do the same thing with me. I love you, man. I love you. A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player and I’m the first to have your back, man, though it all. Just stay the person you are. Everybody loves you here. I love you. I thank you so much, man. You make me better. You know, your work ethic, I always want to compete with you. I always want to pull up in the parking lot of the arena, or the practice facility, and if you beat me there I was always upset. I always wanted to outwork you. You set the bar. You set the tone. Thank you so much, man. Thank you. You have a big piece of this. You’re an MVP-caliber player. It’s a blessing to play with you, man. Thank all you guys, I know we have a bigger goal in mind. We have a tough game tomorrow, but this means the world to me that you guys are here with me celebrating with me. Thank you. Thank you. I can’t express it enough. I’m sorry. I’m almost done. Give me a couple more minutes. Thank you to the organization for drafting me and believing in me from the beginning that I can be an MVP player.

Mr. Bennett, just giving me this opportunity. I thank you for always being there when I need you. Every time I see you under the basket for a game, I feel confident. No matter how the game is going, I look at you and I can tell, “If our owner is behind us, we can do it all.” I thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. Sam Presti, thank you, sir. Your texts late night after a good game, after a bad game. I really appreciate those. From the beginning, your support means a lot to me. I thank you for putting together such a great team and doing so much for us. Our community is blessed to have you. Our team is blessed to have you. Thank you. Troy Weaver. Somebody I’ve known for such a long time. God directed our paths to work together and it’s been everything and more, man. Our relationship has grown day by day and I thank you for believing in me and for always being on top of me and just keeping it real with me no matter what, always supporting my family. I thank you, man. Words can’t express how much you mean to me. Such a great man to your family, to this team, to this community. We all appreciate you. To all the staff, I can’t name all you guys. All the staff members that take care of us every single day from Donnie Strack, Joe Sharpe, Tony (Katzenmeier), Dave Bliss, Josh Longstaff, Will (Dawkins), Wilson (Taylor), (Mark St. Yves), Dwight (Daub). I could go down the line. All you guys have made me a better player. I wish I had a Sharpie so I could write all your names on here because you had a hand on this. You made me believe in myself. You made me a better person, a better player. Your words of encouragement, your love, your positivity got me through. And I thank you guys. Coaching staff, I know there’s days when you want to look at that film and kill me for not playing defense, for taking bad shots, getting too many techs. But you always believe that I can be the guy. Through the tough times, you guys never left my side. Always wanted to help me get better. Always wanted to push me to new limits. Always work with me. Took time out of your summers to come work with me. Took time out of your nights to come work with me. And it’s something I really appreciate. I never want to take you guys for granted. I thank you so much for being a part of my life, not just on the basketball court, but giving me talks about growing as a man first and a basketball player next. I thank you so much. Scott Brooks, you mean the world to me. I love you. You as a man. I never met anybody like you, so selfless. You don’t take the credit for nothing, even though you deserve all of it. I love you and your family for always taking me in, believing me, texting me late at night when I was going crazy. Thank you. Thank you. Beautiful fans of Oklahoma City, I can’t say enough about you guys. All the support you give our team. The home-court advantage that we have is the best I’ve ever seen. We disappoint you sometimes, but we try our best every single night to win for you guys. And we want to win a championship for you guys. This city, all they want us to be is ourselves. You love us how

we are. We’re all a work in progress as men and you still love us and I thank you so much for embracing us. Last but not least my family. My brother Tony, I love you. Thank you for beating me up when I was a kid. I always wanted to follow in your footsteps. I pray for you every night. You’ve taught me to feel confident in myself, believe in myself that I can do it when I didn’t think I could do it. Dad, it’s been an up-and-down road for all of us, but you’ve always been there supporting from afar, texting me Bible verses every single day, telling me you love me every single day. That builds me up and I thank you so much. I love you. I’m just glad you’re part of this journey with us. My little brother Rayvonne (Lee), you always followed after my footsteps. I always want to set a good example for you, man. Thank you for all the support. I love you. All my friends, Cliff (Dixon), Charlie (Bell), Vernon (Dixon), Tay (Young), Randy (Williams), Ryan (Lopez). You all keep me sane every single day. There’s days where I come home upset from a game or practice and you just brighten my day up. I thank you guys. You mean the world to me. I wouldn’t be here without all you guys. This our trophy, too. I appreciate it. Thank you. All the support from all my friends, all my family, over the years I appreciate it. My grandma couldn’t be here. I know she’s watching. She’s going to text me as soon as I get off the stage. Thank you so much for picking me up from school when I was a kid, fixing me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day, texting me after every game, telling me I need to stop getting techs and loving me unconditionally. And last, my mom. I don’t think you know what you did. You had my brother when you were 18 years old. Three years later, I came out. The odds were stacked against us. Single parent with two boys by the time you were 21 years old. Everybody told us we weren’t supposed to be here. We went from apartment to apartment by ourselves. One of the best memories I had was when we moved into our first apartment, no bed, no furniture and we all just sat in the living room and just hugged each other. We thought we made it. When something good happens to you, I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to look back to what brought me here. You wake me up in the middle of the night in the summer times, making me run up a hill, making me do pushups, screaming at me from the sidelines of my games at 8 or 9 years old. We wasn’t supposed to be here. You made us believe. You kept us off the street. You put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You the real MVP. Last, I’d just like to thank God again. You’re the first and the last, alpha and omega. I thank you for saving my life. I appreciate everybody. Thanks to all the writers for voting for me. The end.

THE OKLAHOMAN | NEWSOK.COM

KEVIN DURANT COMMEMORATIVE SECTION

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In his MVP speech, KD followed the ‘framily plan’ EVER WONDERED WHO THOSE PEOPLE ARE WHO SIT COURTSIDE WITH KEVIN DURANT’S FAMILY? HE RECOGNIZED THEM IN HIS SPEECH. Darnell Mayberry

KD’S MVP ACCEPTANCE SPEECH

DMayberry @opubco.com

Scan the QR code to watch Kevin Durant’s entire speech from his NBA MVP ceremony.

THUNDER They sat in the front row, shoulder-to-shoulder, staring back at a watery-eyed Kevin Durant with misty eyes of their own. This was as much their moment as it was his. “This is our trophy, too,” Durant told them during his emotional speech for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award. Durant was speaking to his family and friends, the tightly-knit inner circle to which he dedicated the final four minutes of his powerful speech. Durant singled out those who mean the most to him. They are the MVP’s most valuable people. His mother, Wanda Pratt. “You’re the real MVP,” Durant told her. His older brother, Tony Durant. “You’ve taught me to feel confident in myself, believe in myself; that I could do it when I didn’t think I could do it,” Durant said. His father, Wayne Pratt. “You’ve always been there supporting from afar, texting me bible verses every single day, telling me you love me every single day,” Durant said. “And that builds me up. And I thank you so much. I love you.” His younger brother, Rayvonne Lee. “You always followed after my footsteps,” Durant told him. “I always want to set a good example for you, man. Thank you for all the

Thunder forward Kevin Durant, center, watches a basketball game between OU and Texas with his friend, Randy Williams, left, and brother, Tony Durant, right. PHOTO BY BRYAN TERRY, THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES

support. I love you.” His grandmother, Barbara Davis, who couldn’t be in attendance. “I know she’s watching,” Durant said. “She’s going to text me as soon as I get off the stage. Thank you so much for picking me up from school when I was a kid. Fixing me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day. Texting me after every game telling me I need to stop getting techs. And loving me unconditionally.” Durant then turned his attention to close friends —we’ll call it his “framily” in a nod to the Sprint cellphone commericals featuring Durant that have been running during the playoffs. Charlie Bell, a confidant he’s known since the age of 8, who now serves as a

manager of sorts. “Charlie is a guy that has been there with me from the beginning,” Durant told The Oklahoman. “Since I got into the league he’s helped me out every single day and made sure everything was straight for me and just let me focus on basketball. That’s something I appreciate.” Cliff Dixon, a young man Wanda Pratt took in when he and Durant were about 16. Randy Williams, a friend Durant met during his freshman year at Texas. They’re among the few that comprise Durant’s clique. They’re the people you see cheering from courtside inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. They’re the people who provided much-needed

nurturing as Durant navigated his NBA career and set out on this MVP course. “They did their part in just making this thing roll,” Durant told The Oklahoman. “Because it’s tough living in this lifestyle, playing in the NBA, traveling so much, having a lot of money. It’s tough to really grasp at a young age. And they helped me out with it since Day One.” Others have impacted Durant. He didn’t forget about them even if they haven’t been as visible to the general public. “They all have a story,” Durant told The Oklahoman. “A few of them went to jail and they needed somebody to help them out and lean on and support them. And I wanted to

be that guy. And I knew that they would do the same for me.” Durant rarely speaks about his private life, and he’s been even more guarded about his family. But in those final four minutes of his 26-minute speech, Durant opened up and provided a rare peek into his support system. “I just wanted to let them know how much I love them and how much they had a hand on me winning the MVP,” Durant told The Oklahoman. “Their support, their positivity and just keeping it real with me every day; just loving on me no matter what, just letting me know when I make mistakes and how I can be better from them. They do a tremendous job. They should be celebrated. So I

just try to do my best to let them know.” Durant couldn’t have delivered a better tribute. It was humble and heartfelt and honest, and it magnificiently honored the people who mean the most to Durant. “All my support from all my friends, all my family over the years, I appreciate it,” Durant said. Durant labeled his MVP news conference surreal. As he accepted the trophy, he thought back to all the tough times his family overcame to get to this point. He thought about how much he’s matured and all those who helped him along the way. “To be up there was just like a total 180 for me,” Durant said. The one constant was his supporting cast. The MVP’s most valuable people. “They stood by me but they kept it real,” Durant said. “We’re just like any other family that goes through tough times. Just because I’m blessed enough to be financially stable and live out my dreams, we still go through problems. That’s what families do. But we stick together through it all.”

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KEVIN DURANT COMMEMORATIVE SECTION

CHALLENGING THE RECORD

CONTINUING THE CLIMB In the last five seasons, Kevin Durant has averaged 2,271 points, leading the league four out of those five years. If he continues at this pace through his prime — which, for argument’s sake, we’ll say last for the next six seasons – he will rapidly climb the scoring charts. Let’s take a look at some future projections, adding 2,271 to his point total each season: • Currently: Age 25 14,851 points, 132nd place • After 2014-15: Age 26 17,122 points, 85th place • After 2015-16: Age 27 19,393 points, 46th place • After 2016-17: Age 28 21,664 points, 32nd place • After 2017-18: Age 29 23,935 points, 23rd place • After 2018-19: Age 30 26,206 points, 14th place • After 2019-20: Age 31 28,477 points, 7th place

THE FUTURE | THE FACE AND SILHOUETTE OF THE NBA BELIEVES KD CAN PASS KAREEM IF HE STAYS HEALTHY Anthony Slater aslater@ opubco.com

THUNDER

As a 14-time All-Star, NBA champion and successful front office executive, Jerry West’s words hold a lot of clout in basketball circles. The first-ballot Hall of Famer is, literally, the face and silhouette of the NBA brand. So when The Logo speaks, most typically listen. And during a recent interview with Sirius XM radio, West threw out an unprompted prediction for Oklahoma City’s brightest star. “I said this two or three years ago,” West told the station. “If (Kevin Durant) stays healthy, he will break the all-time scoring record in the NBA.” With his first MVP in hand, Durant has cemented his place among the league’s greats. Thirty players have won the award. Twenty are in the Hall of Fame. The other 10 — with the possible exception of Derrick Rose — are locks to get in once eligible. So it’s no longer about reaching elite status for Durant. It’s about polishing up a résumé that has already soared to illustrious heights. Deep playoff runs and a string of titles will do his legacy the most good. But nearly as influential would be a run at some of the NBA’s most sacred scoring records. Seven years into his career — and only 25 years old — he’s already made a substantial dent. Durant has four scoring titles. The record is 10. He averages 27.4 points per game. The record is 30.1. But no scoring mark is more coveted than Kareem AbdulJabbar’s seemingly untouchable record of 38,387 career points. It’s a milestone that was cement-

NBA’S TOP SCORERS

Oklahoma City 's Kevin Durant, right, goes up for a dunk over Houston's James Harden during a December game at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Though he’s only 25, Durant has already won four scoring titles and averages 27.4 points per game. PHOTO BY SARAH PHIPPS, THE OKLAHOMAN

ed 25 years ago and hasn’t really been challenged since. Karl Malone is the next closest, 1,459 points behind. Moses Malone is in seventh place, more than 10,000 away. But if anyone has a shot at it in the foreseeable future, most would agree it’s Durant. “For someone that size to have the skill and ability that he has, it’s really remarkable,” West said. “I just don’t see people being able to cover him because of his versatility and shot-making ability. He’s not just a shooter, he’s a shot-maker, a shot-creator.” Through seven seasons, Durant has 14,851 points, already

placing him 132nd all-time. He scored 2,593 points this season, a career-high. If he could average around 2,500 the next six years — an extremely tall task, but that’s what it’ll likely take during his prime years — he’d be up to nearly 30,000 by his 32nd birthday and 13th year in the league. That would already put him at sixth all-time, behind only Abdul-Jabbar, Malone, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Wilt Chamberlain. From there, he’d have the latter stages of his career to accumulate around 9,000 more. A lot will depend on how he ages, but even when the athleticism fades,

the shooting touch typically doesn’t. Abdul-Jabbar played until he was 41, averaging more than 1,000 points his last three years. “I’m going out on a limb,” former NBA player Steve Smith recently said of Durant on TNT. “If he stays healthy, he can maybe catch Kareem.” “Not Kareem. Not 38 stacks,” a stunned Shaquille O’Neal answered back, referring to thousands. “Thirty-four, not 38.” For Durant, a daunting task that remains more than a decade away. But not an impossible one, based on what he’s already done and what the game’s legends are already saying about him.

Here’s a look at the top-25 scorers of all-time 1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 38,837 points 2. Karl Malone: 36,928 points 3. Michael Jordan: 32,292 points 4. Kobe Bryant: 31,700 points 5. Wilt Chamberlain: 31,419 points 6. Shaquille O’Neal: 28,596 points 7. Moses Malone: 27,409 points 8. Elvin Hayes: 27,313 points 9. Hakeem Olajuwon: 26,946 points 10. Dirk Nowitzki: 26,786 points 11. Oscar Robertson: 26,710 points 12. Dominique Wilkins: 26,668 points 13. John Havlicek: 26,395 points 14. Kevin Garnett: 25,626 points 15. Alex English: 25,613 points 16. Reggie Miller: 25,279 points 17. Jerry West: 25,192 points 18. Paul Pierce: 25,031 points 19. Tim Duncan: 24,904 points 20. Patrick Ewing: 24,815 points 21. Ray Allen: 24,505 points 22. Allen Iverson: 24,368 points 23. Charles Barkley: 23,757 points 24. Robert Parish: 23,334 points 25. Vince Carter: 23,190 points 132. Kevin Durant: 14,851 points COMPILED BY ANTHONY SLATER

Making his way to the top Kevin Durant’s ascension to the NBA MVP was far from a single-season epiphany. Along with LeBron James, Durant’s the only player in the league to finish in the top five in award voting each of the past five seasons. He finally got over the hump this year, but it’s an honor that’s been brewing for a half-decade. Let’s look at his rise, year-by-year for the past five:

2009-10

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

2013-14

MVP top five 1. LeBron James: 1,205 points (116 first-place votes) 2. Kevin Durant: 609 points (4) 3. Kobe Bryant: 599 points 4. Dwight Howard: 478 points (3) 5. Dwyane Wade: 119 points Explanation: In each of his seven seasons, Durant has made large leaps. But none might have been bigger than Year 2 to 3. He went from a young, inefficient scorer on one of the league’s worst teams to a first-time All-Star, the NBA’s leading scorer and the MVP runner-up on a playoff team all in a span of 12 months.

MVP top five 1. Derrick Rose: 1,182 points (113 first-place votes) 2. Dwight Howard: 643 points (3) 3. LeBron James: 522 points (4) 4. Kobe Bryant: 428 points (1) 5. Kevin Durant: 190 points Explanation: Durant’s growth remained steady in these early years, but 2010-11 provided more MVP competition than he had previously faced. Rose was the league’s breakout star, Howard was at his peak, LeBron was LeBron and Kobe was at the tail end of his greatness. Meanwhile, Durant was only 22.

MVP top five 1. LeBron James: 1,074 points (85 first-place votes) 2. Kevin Durant: 889 points (24) 3. Chris Paul: 385 points (6) 4. Kobe Bryant: 352 points (2) 5. Tony Parker: 331 points (4) Explanation: The spectacular scoring numbers had always been there. But this is when Durant experienced a noticeable bump in efficiency. After never shooting better than 47 percent, Durant bumped that clip up to nearly 50. He was taking smarter shots and making a lot more. This was the closest he got to an MVP before finally winning it in 2013-14.

MVP top five 1. LeBron James: 1,207 points (120 first-place votes) 2. Kevin Durant: 765 points 3. Carmelo Anthony: 475 points (1) 4. Chris Paul: 289 points 5. Kobe Bryant: 184 points Explanation: His defense continued to get better. His improved playmaking was on full display, with a career-high in assists. And his efficiency was at a historic rate, becoming only the sixth player ever to join the 50-40-90 club. But MVP-wise, Durant’s marked improvements in all areas were all for naught. LeBron’s career year trumped Durant’s, highlighted by a legendary 27-game win streak. This award was always his.

MVP top five 1. Kevin Durant: 1,232 points (119 first-place votes) 2. LeBron James: 891 points (6) 3. Blake Griffin: 434 points 4. Joakim Noah: 322 points 5. James Harden: 85 points Explanation: Durant’s spectacular play and steady improvements were finally paired with the proper circumstances. Because of Russell Westbrook’s injury issues, Durant was forced to shoulder a heavier load. And he responded, leading the Thunder to 59 wins and putting together the best stretch of his life during a 15-2 mid-January stretch without Westbrook. James didn’t lose this award. Durant took it. BY ANTHONY SLATER

KEVIN DURANT’S CAREER REGULAR-SEASON STATISTICS 07-08 08-09 09-10 10-11 11-12 12-13 13-14 Career

SEA OKC OKC OKC OKC OKC OKC

G 80 74 82 78 66 81 81 542

GS 80 74 82 78 66 81 81 542

FG 587 661 794 711 643 731 849 4976

FGA 1366 1390 1668 1538 1297 1433 1688 10380

FG% .430 .476 .476 .462 .496 .510 .503 .479

3P 59 97 128 145 133 139 192 893

3PA 205 230 351 414 344 334 491 2369

3P% .288 .422 .365 .350 .387 .416 .391 .377

FT 391 452 756 594 431 679 703 4006

FTA 448 524 840 675 501 750 805 4543

FT% .873 .863 .900 .880 .860 .905 .873 .882

OREB 70 77 105 57 40 46 58 453

REB 348 482 623 533 527 640 598 3751

AST 192 205 231 214 231 374 445 1892

STL 78 96 112 88 88 116 103 681

BLK 75 53 84 76 77 105 59 529

PTS 1624 1871 2472 2161 1850 2280 2593 14851

PPG 20.3 25.3 30.1 27.7 28.0 28.1 32.0 27.4

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Understanding the ‘V’ in MVP KEVIN DURANT CHANGES WHAT VALUE TRULY MEANS TO NBA, OKLAHOMANS Berry Tramel btramel@ opubco.com

COMMENTARY

T

he honor is called MVP. Most Valuable Player. But that’s not really what it is. Most outstanding player really is what these awards represent, including the NBA’s Maurice Podoloff Trophy. Which player had the best season? Valuable is a stronger word than outstanding. Value has deeper meaning. Deeper roots. Value goes well past the hardwood. Past the profitability of a basketball franchise. Value can go into the psyche of an entire populace. Which means the NBA got it right anyway. Kevin Durant is the NBA’s 2014 MVP. Most valuable player. Most valuable person. Hard to imagine an NBA player ever being more valuable. Maybe Bill Russell in 1960s Boston, which enjoyed a dynasty like no other and was forced to face racial issues brought by Russell’s play and his activism. David Robinson helped the Spurs establish a culture that still goes strong, almost 30 years later. Kobe Bryant elevated a Laker brand that already

was one of the most potent in sport. LeBron James transforms whichever franchise obtains his services. But Durant’s value goes beyond his worth to the Thunder. Goes past the city identity that Robinson ignited in San Antonio. Durant’s value stretches to the entire state. “For those of us who are from Oklahoma and see him on a day to day basis, we understand this award is bigger than a professional basketball player, for this city and this state,” Thunder president Sam Presti said during Durant’s MVP celebration. “It’s an opportunity for us to recognize and celebrate the person we see on a day to day basis, which is a tremendous ambassador for our city, our state. A tremendous citizen. And an inspiration for a lot of people of all ages across this great state of Oklahoma.” And here’s part of the inspiration. Durant is a Marylander by birth and a Texas Longhorn by choice. But he’s ingrained himself in Oklahoma, either through public community actions or quiet humanitarian deeds or through simple humility despite being one of the world’s greatest athletes. Durant talks like an Oklahoman. Refers to himself as an Oklahoman. He’s been in Oklahoma

City now six seasons, is contracted to stay with the Thunder at least two more and, while you never know, talks like he plans to stay. Even more importantly, Durant acts like it. That’s no small thing for a state that at one point suffered from a severe inferiority complex, courtesy of the Dust Bowl and John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” alleviated in part because of Bud Wilkinson’s OU football team, and later endured virtual anonymity. For decades, it wasn’t so much that Oklahoma suffered from a poor image in the national consciousness. It was that Oklahoma prompted no image at all. In recent years, that has changed because of tragedy. The 1995 bombing of the Murrah Building. The killer tornadoes that struck Moore in 1999 and 2003 and 2013. But for better or worse, sport changes the perception of a place. Oklahoma City now is known internationally as the home of the Thunder. The home of Kevin Durant. “There’s so many things that just try to bring us down here in Oklahoma,” Durant said during his MVP ceremony. “Natural disasters, the Oklahoma City bombing. I feel as though us being here, the Thunder, we’re just trying to shine a bright light. Hopefully something like this repre-

sents what we’re about. “If we fall down, we get up. Fall down, we get up. If we finish second, we keep fighting until we finish first. Says a lot about the city. Perfect place for me. I enjoy being a part of something like this.” There are no guarantees. LeBron left his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, for South Beach. Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard both fled Orlando for the glitz of Los Angeles. Who knows what Durant will do in summer 2016? But it’s got to warm Oklahoma hearts to hear Durant use a few key phrases. Us. We. Perfect place for me. It’s beginning to dawn on OKC and Oklahoma just how blessed has been this entire Thunder story. Getting an NBA franchise just as Durant was entering his second pro season. Getting not just a player destined to be one of the two or three best players of his generation, but a player with character traits most franchises can only dream about for their franchise star. “We inside the walls of our building, we know what we have here,” Presti said. “We don’t take it for granted. We understand it’s a special time and place.” That’s why Durant’s value soars. Not just in the standings, where the

Thunder has been an elite team for five straight years and an NBA title contender for four. Not just on the ledger, where the Thunder’s profitability has moved the franchise into a giver, not a taker, in the NBA’s revenue-sharing system, despite OKC ranking 27th among the league’s 28 markets. Durant’s value stretches to quality of living, where residents have a better attitude, believing that a person of Durant’s profile has found a home in our midst. “He’s just invaluable to the city,” said Thunder fan Chris Griffith of Oklahoma City. “He’s an inspiration to especially kids, young athletes. He’s a great role model. I’ve got three boys, and they all play basketball. He’s just revered in our house, and I think he’s revered in the state of Oklahoma.” Oklahoma is lucky to have Durant, and so is the Thunder. Durant draws a circle around all he comes in contact with. OU or OSU fans who hate the Longhorns. Fans from Tulsa who now forget about the city rivalry with OKC. The people he plays with. The people he works with. When the news arrived of Durant’s MVP, Thunder director of team operations Marc St. Yves, who goes back with the franchise decades to Seattle SuperSonic days, gave

Durant a hug and said, “This is my first MVP.” Durant said he thought about the words of St. Yves. And agreed. It was St. Yves’ MVP. It was his teammates’ MVP. It was his franchise’s MVP. It was the fans’ MVP. It was Oklahoma’s MVP. “When we arrived in 2008, we were focused on building a franchise and not just a team,” Presti said. “Teams change year to year, but the franchise has to have a set of core values that allows it to endure the cycles of professional sports. “Kevin personifies the value set that we feel are critically important to not only have a competitive team year to year, but also have an organization that is representative of a city where we play and where we live, and the type of franchise that can endure the environment of pro sports that is often very turbulent and unforgiving … A work ethic that is consistent with the state motto of Oklahoma, ‘Labor Conquers All.’ A person that understands he truly has made a difference in our community with how he deals with others.” Most valuable player. Most valuable person. Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@opubco.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.

THE MOST VALUABLE ATHLETES TO THEIR FRANCHISES

THE POSSIBLE VALUE OF KD’S NEXT CONTRACT

The five American professional athletes who are financially most valuable to their franchises:

What could Durant command on the open market? Jon Hamm is a local expert on the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. Here is what he had to say about Durant’s next contract: “There aren't any solid projections yet, because there are no salary cap projections for 2016-17 yet. But we can get close. Max salaries are somewhat based on the salary cap. The catch is that the formula used to compute max salaries is slightly different than the formula used to calculate the salary cap. “In 2016, Durant's maximum salary will be 30 percent of the salary cap (he'll fall into the 7-9 years experience bracket). But because of the formula difference, the max salary for that bracket will be slightly less than 30 percent of the cap, in actuality. For the sake of simplicity, it's not unreasonable to just use 30 percent of the salary cap as the max salary guesstimate. We're just guessing at future salary cap numbers at this point anyway. (This is somewhat confusing because the agreement refers to max salaries as a percentage of the salary cap, but then a different formula is spelled out in another subsection.)” Hamm also cited collective bargaining agreement expert Larry Coon: “A free agent's maximum salary in the first year of a new contract is never less than 105 percent of his salary in the last year of his previous contract.” So, Hamm said, “if the max salary is defined as $19 million, but a player made $20 million the year before, his max salary would be $21 million. The league projects a salary cap of $66.5 million in 2015-16. That'd be a $3.3 million increase over what's expected in 2014-15. A conservative estimate would be to increase that another $3.3 million for 2016-17. Round up a touch and let's assume the salary cap will be $70 million in the summer of 2016. If

1

LeBron James: Wherever LeBron goes, more than the team is transformed. The franchise becomes the NBA’s lightning rod and most marketable.

2

Kevin Durant: The Thunder is one of the NBA’s most profitable and most popular franchises, despite a market size a fraction the size of the biggest cities in the league. Durant is the reason why. He’s made the Thunder an NBA contender and nearly doubled the value of the franchise, which was purchased in 2006 for $350 million and was estimated to be worth $590 million last year by Forbes.

3

Tom Brady: Among the three major American team sports, only NFL quarterbacks can match NBA superstars in terms of impact on and off the court or field. In 13 years as the New England quarterback, Brady has turned the Patriots into another America’s Team.

4

Kobe Bryant: Kobe is in the twilight of his career. But his value to the Lakers remains apparent. The Lakers could have voided Kobe’s contract last year and foregone his $30 million salary. But the Laker brand has risen so high in the Kobe era, the two are largely indistinguishable.

5

Peyton Manning: Much like LeBron’s jump from Cleveland to Miami, Manning’s departure from Indianapolis to Denver proved his value. The Broncos were a vaunted franchise before Manning became their quarterback, but Manning’s addition lifted the franchise significantly in the NFL pantheon.

that's the case, then the maximum salary bracket Durant would fall into would be somewhere around $21 million. “Durant's salary in 2015-16 is $20,158,622. So at a minimum, his max salary in 2016 would be 105 percent of that, or $21,166,533. Could be more than that if the league keeps raking in money. “Another variable: the national TV contracts. The big TV contracts expire in 2016. Speculation has the new contracts increasing by at least 50 percent, if not doubling. There could be a significant increase in both the salary cap and max salaries that summer. Durant's max salary could be quite a bit more.” The Thunder can pay Durant more than can other franchises, “but it's not as impressive as you might think,” Hamm wrote. “The first-year max salary would be the same for him whether he re-signed with OKC or elsewhere. OKC will be able to offer a couple of things that other teams can't: a five-year contract (as opposed to four by another team) and 7.5 percent annual increases off the base salary (as opposed to 4.5 percent by other teams). “Hypothetical example: let's say Durant's max salary is $25 million. OKC's offer would include annual raises of $1.875 million. Other teams could only offer $1.125 million annual raises. So OKC's offer would be five years, $143.75 million. Other teams could offer four years and $106.75 million. “The rub is that if you look at both offers based on the first four years, the difference is not that significant (OKC's offer is better by only $4.5 million over four years). The fifth year is nice for security (some players place a lot of value on length of contract), but KD's going to eventually get that fifth year either way, so it's not a great advantage.” BY BERRY TRAMEL

KD’S CAREER SALARY NUMBERS $20.15M

BY BERRY TRAMEL

$20M

$18.99M 8.9 99 9 18. 9M

NBA SUPERSTARS THE MOST UNDERVALUED ATHLETES

$17.83M 83M .83 3M

In 2011, the New York Times’ Nate Silver researched what individual NBA players were worth in terms of victories. Silver found that NBA teams then spent a little over $2 billion in salaries for 1,230 victories, the number of NBA games played per season. That meant the price of a win was about $1.63 million. Using John Hollinger’s metric of individual players, Estimated Wins Added, Silver estimated what each player was worth in terms of victories they delivered. In 2011, LeBron James was worth $47 million. It was a rough estimate, of course, which didn’t take into account playoffs. But it made clear the most underpaid athletes in America are NBA superstars. Businessinsider.com in 2013 produced a comparison of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat in both 2010, the last season James was with the Cavs, and 2011, his first year with the Heat. Businessinsider.com estimated that James, who made $14.5 million in his first year in Miami, was underpaid by about $15 million. Category Franchise value TV ratings National TV games NBA attendance rank Avg. ticket price

Cavaliers 2010 $476M 7.7 25 2nd $250

Cavaliers 2011 $335M 3.9 3 19th $50

Heat 2010 $365M 2.5 15 15th $93

Heat 2011 $425M 5.0 29 4th $311

$16.66M 6..66 66 M 6M 6 $15.50M 5.50 5 50M 5 0M M $15M

$10M

$6.05M $6.0 $6 . 5 $5M

48M 8M $4.17M 17M M $4.48M

2007 BY BERRY TRAMEL

’08

$4.79M

’09

’10

’11

’12

’13

’14

’15

THE OKLAHOMAN GRAPHICS


Kevin Durant: Face Value