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Kevin Durant on championship secret formula: ‘It’s just basketball’

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Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

On the eve of hosting the franchise that once housed his enormous talents (the Warriors), Nets superstar Kevin Durant sat down with reporters to describe the moment itself ... and his feelings on the matter.

Durant was forthcoming. He went in-depth to the nth degree. All-in-all, it was just fantastic, eloquent, a man describing his love of a game and those who play it. So rather than throwing out little anecdotes, some film, or whatever, I’m just going to let Durant’s detailed words tell this story.

Durant was asked about how he felt––emotionally speaking––about meeting up with his former Golden State teammates for the first time on the hardwood.

“Playing against old teammates never really ratcheted me up. feel like I’m always on that level no matter who is on the floor. I feel like each game is important to me, and it’s no more important because I’m playing against my old teammates. I just feel like the game of basketball is going to have me on that level anyway, and it’s going to be good to see some old teammates, good to play against them. Good to see some of the people I worked with in my time in Golden State, but nothing more than that. The game of basketball is always going to have me on that level––wanting to play extremely hard when I’m out there.”

In Durant’s eyes, Tuesday’s opener is more an exciting beginning to a new journey rather than nostalgia, On one level, it’s nothing more than just a basketball game ... and that’s just fine. More personal aspects like, say, the ability to get “closure” do not apply for the 32-year-old. And at least for Durant, there are no hard feelings about how things ended in Golden State––at least in his eyes.

“Injuries happen in this league, and I had a tough one. But I wouldn’t blame that on anyone. And I don’t need this game, or for me to play well, or win this game to feel like I have ‘closure’ on that situation. If winning a basketball game is going to give me closure for three years, then I really didn’t have a good time there, I guess. So it’s deeper than this game, and it’s bigger than the injury. That has nothing to do with our relationship, how I’m going to play, or how I’m going to approach my former teammates and organization. It’s just about going out there and being me.”

Being himself is Durant’s essential virtue as an NBA athlete. He is who he is; he’s unique, identifiable by his initials. He’s KD. And in a team-building framework, that’s what he brings to the table. Himself. His skills. The team itself is never all about him. That applies particularly to the Nets. He’s focused on lending his body, mind, and soul to this new Brooklyn venture.

“Everything I’ve been a part of is my own. I feel like every team I’ve been a part of, I’ve left my mark on each team. What I bring to the table, I never looked at it as ‘mine.’ I don’t look at the Nets as ‘mine.’ It’s our team; from the fans to the owners to the players, it’s our team. I feel like I add my piece to the game, and my role is to go out there and be me every single day. I might play more, get more touches than other guys, but I still don’t feel like it’s just ‘mine.’

“When I was with OKC and I was with the Warriors, nobody on our team felt like it was one guy’s chance to take this whole thing over or to have one singular voice. (I’ve) always been in a group since I was 8-or-9 years old; it’s always been about the team. My game is going to speak for itself, but personality-wise––individual-wise––I try and not to make myself bigger than the group. But I know what I add to a basketball club, and I feel that way with the Warriors. It wasn’t about me going to the Nets to prove that ‘I can make my own thing.’ It’s just that I’m coming here to play basketball and add to a group of great guys.”

Of course, what separates him and fellow superstar Kyrie Irving is the strength of their NBA experience. The two of them, along with Jeff Green, are the only players on the roster to ever make it to an NBA Finals. Still, to KD, the emphasis put on “championship basketball” tends to be a bit too much of the dramatic. What matters (to borrow a popular phrase from Steve Nash) is that “connectivity” with the game itself.

“Championship experience and winning at that level; that’s the whole experience. Because so much goes into that, from a team aspect and individual standpoint. Everybody has to be on one page––from the owner all the way down to the equipment manager. When you chasing a championship, you experience so much as a group together. That builds that bond. Even on teams that we haven’t won the championship––we just right there and we end up losing in the conference finals––you always build a lifelong bond with those guys, and it feels like that way with the Warriors.”

And then, he provided my favorite quote of the afternoon. We’ve touched on Durant’s leadership in the past ever so briefly, but this is about as good as it gets from the 32-year-old. The statement “it’s just basketball” rings true from a twp-time NBA champion and one of the 10-best NBA players to ever step on the court. This sure sounds like how Durant is going to carry himself as Brooklyn’s locker room leader; he’s going to keep things simple, allow guys to play within themselves and work as stars within their roles, and treat this season like a 72-game pickup game.

He’s keeping it simple and telling his guys to believe in themselves.

“What I realized after winning a championship and playing that deep into the season is that, at the end of the day, it’s just basketball. We try and put so much extra emphasis on winning and what it takes to win and how deep you gotta go to win; at the end of the day, it’s just hoops. And a lot of these guys in this locker room have been playing hoops since they were kids, and they played in games that meant a lot to them. Doesn’t matter if it’s for an NBA championship or if it’s for a little-league city title in their neighborhood.

“They played games where, mentally, spiritually, they had to get to a place where they had to bring out the best in them. We’ve all tapped into that space before. My teammates don’t need experience in the playoffs to let them know they can play on that stage. I feel like the skills, preparation, and how they approach the game individually will have them ready for that––more so than us giving them each experience, or letting them know what we went through.

“They know how to play the game of basketball, and it’s on the coaches and all of us to come together as one collective, to have the right strategy to have us win basketball games. Outside of that? They know how to play.”

And then to conclude, he discussed how he’s feeling physically. It sure seems like he’s on the same page as his head coach, Steve Nash, taking things day-by-day.

“I’m definitely getting more comfortable each and every day with playing. (Laughs) I’ve always been comfortable with a basketball in my hands. But physically, not being able to run up-and-down the court is going to take me more than two or three games to feel like ‘alright, I feel like I’m in midseason form,’

“I guess. It’s all about retraining my body and mind to play in a game with referees, play in game running plays. Because in the summertime, we was playing pickup... I’m not running no plays. I’m coming down shooting wild shots. I’m coming down just trying to test myself. And now you’ve gotta be a little more strategic in this game. I look forward to exercising my mind and my body out there.”

Or to put simply, he’s about loving the game.

“He just loves basketball. Loves the game,” said Steve Nash Sunday, emphasizing “love.” “Great passion for refining his skill set, his craft every day, competitive, and winning - he’s here every day working on his game and his craft...

He’ll be doing all that tomorrow, 7 PM Eastern, on TNT.