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Times looks at Kevin Durant, the man; Nets as ‘superteam’

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game Five Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

In an entertaining — and lengthy — profile in the New York Times Magazine, Sam Anderson looks at Kevin Durant, the man more than the player, but also the alchemist, so to speak, in the NBA’s new player-driven era. Durant is more than just the best player in the world right now, argues Anderson.

For the Times writer, he’s a special person with a special history and one at the center of what Anderson calls “the wildest drama in basketball: a radical experiment in Brooklyn, where the once-hapless Nets have transformed themselves into a superteam around K.D. and his friends.” In fact, Anderson calls the Nets “(Possibly) the Greatest Basketball Team of All Time.” But Durant is his main focus.

Spend any time with Durant and what you will notice, I swear, is not his height (6 feet 10¾ inches) or his wingspan (7 feet 4¾ inches) but deeper things, spiritual things. You will notice his large, thoughtful, searching eyes; his matter-of-fact self-consciousness; a certain tender, unhidden sadness. Durant is a four-time scoring champion and a two-time finals M.V.P. and an 11-time All-Star and the protagonist of countless N.B.A. dramas and mini-scandals and memes — by any measure, one of the defining athletes of our time. His decisions about where to play, and which teammates to play with, have thrust whole franchises up to glory and sent others plummeting down.

Anderson spent time talking with Durant, his mother, others close to him from Prince George’s County to the HSS Training Center. He examines KD’s childhood, his love of the game and how he chose to rise above adversity ... and criticism.

Perhaps the most endearing and revealing part of the story is about his family, “a real black family,” KD explained. It was Durant who famously and emotionally declared his mother, Wanda, the “real MVP.” when he accepted the Maurice Podoloff Trophy back in 2014.

As Anderson writes, Durant’s family is a bigger, broader concept than many realize and it affects his relationships with teammates, fans, the NBA in general. Anderson takes a deep dive into Durant’s memory and comes up with this anecdote about his great-aunt Pearl, with whom he was very close and who lived in his “little yellow house” in Capitol Heights, Maryland.

Aunt Pearl made Kevin sandwiches and snacks. When the kids slept over they’d all pile onto a makeshift mattress next to her bed. Except for Kevin, who would climb up, off the floor, and sleep in bed right next to her.

When Kevin was 11, Aunt Pearl died. It happened in front of him. She had late-stage lung cancer. One day she got up to use the bathroom but never made it back — she collapsed in the hall, struggling to breathe, and started coughing up blood, so much blood that it gushed out of her and she died, right there, in the house. E.M.T.s came and cleaned her up, then laid her back in bed. Everyone was waiting for the coroner. Kevin walked over and climbed into the bed, as he always did, and lay down. Just lay there next to Aunt Pearl, keeping her company. His grandmother, seeing her grandson in bed with the body of her sister, asked if Kevin was OK. “I’m not afraid of Aunt Pearl,” he said.

Anderson also writes about how his life changed when he walked to a gym at age 7, a way for his mother to keep him “steady,” get him engaged in the larger world.

One day when Durant was 7, Wanda took him to the Seat Pleasant rec center. She did it for much the same reason she used to strap him into a stroller: Maybe basketball could hold him steady, could keep him from bouncing around in the chaos of the world. Durant remembers entering that gym as a full-on spiritual awakening. It was as if the gates of heaven opened. Holy light flooding down. Angels singing.

Durant returned the favor to Prince George’s County years later with his documentary on just how the county produced so much talent ... with ample praise for the county’s extensive recreational programs (that also produced Jeff Green.)

Anderson examines Durant’s soul and sees him as a “religious figure” at his core, a core enhanced by hoops.

In that gym, almost immediately, he became a sort of basketball monk. On a basketball court, Kevin Durant finally made sense to himself. The game drew on every aspect of his being: the watching, the moving, the thinking, the feeling. It was a deep spiritual channel, a way to align his body and his mind. Basketball brought him instant mentors, the father figures his daily life lacked.

Durant even explained his often confrontational Twitter personality in religious terms.

“Jesus used to do that,” he said. “He used to go to the worst places, and go find the people who hated him, absolutely hated him. Who denied him, never even thought about saying his name. He went to go holla at them and give them the truth. And once they heard the truth they souls changed, and they couldn’t deny it. So I try to take that approach.”

“In your mentions,” I said.

“In everything I do.”

Anderson also writes at length about the creation of the Nets as “superteam” and the role of player empowerment. Here’s his take on the Harden trade.

[S]uperteam logic is brutal, unsentimental and sometimes ugly. Big stars are not trying to wait around, season after season, for incrementally better odds at a title. If you are going to have a superteam, why not make it every bit as super as you possibly can?

And so it happened that, in the chaos of January 2021, when Durant was fully healed and the Nets were finally in a position to see exactly what they had built, they suddenly changed again. With the blessing of their new stars, Brooklyn bundled up its best young talent — the organic, slow-cooked core of that heroic rebuild — and said goodbye. They traded it all away for yet another superstar: James Harden, Durant’s friend and former teammate, 2018 N.B.A. M.V.P., one of the greatest offensive players the league has ever seen. The Nets’ Big 2 was now a Gigantic 3.

In March, while the dust from that impact was still swirling through the air, I asked the Nets’ general manager, Sean Marks, if he ever falls asleep at night with a single tear rolling down his cheek, staring at a photo of all the young players he had to trade away. Marks told me that yes, it hurt him a lot — he lost multiple nights of sleep and cried actual tears and made the worst phone call he’s ever had to make in his life. “You’re reminded,” he told me, “that this is sometimes a cruel and unjust and strange and unfair world.” And yet he would have done the trade 100 times out of 100. Superteam logic is harsh, yes, but it is also irresistible. And it was now firmly in control of the Nets.

There’s a LOT in the profile about KD’s teammates, as Anderson uses all his faculties to describe in wonderous prose their games, Kyrie’s drives to the hoops, James’ stepback 3-pointers. Too long to repost here, but well worth the read.

Not to mention Anderson’s perfect descriptions of outliers in the Nets and Durant drama. Michael Rapaport is a “professional loudmouth,” Stephen A. Smith is “ESPN’s most famous bloviator,” Then there’s his descriptions of the real players in the drama. LeBron James is “nakedly corporate,” Irving, “the tiny quicksilver thief,” Harden “the burly crafty woodsman.” Durant himself, “the tall ethereal phantom.”

In a word, the profile is delicious, a feast for Nets fans. Enjoy.