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Kevin Durant on basketball: ‘The joy that I crave’

Golden State Warriors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Kevin Durant, stripped down to his most basic, is a pure hooper. He loves the game. Yes, he understands the drama, as he noted in his interview with Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo! that we wrote about Thursday. Yes, he knows business too, having made himself and partner Rich Kleiman a lot of money with some smart investments. And yes, he appreciates the world online and its pluses and minuses.

But it is basketball that he loves, first, last and only.

“How do I still keep getting up with that enjoyment and that excitement? I had to ask myself that question. Simply put, I enjoy hooping. It’s simple as that,” Durant told Michael Lee of the Washington Post prior to the Warriors game. “I like when the ball go through the rim. I like working on my game. I like building with a team. It gives me that joy that I crave — a kidlike energy when I walk into practice, into an arena. So I’m going to keep chasing that feeling. And the second, I guess, that goes away, I’ll call it quits.”

At this point, that seems far in the future. He is having, as Lee notes, maybe his best season ever, at 34, 16 seasons after he left Texas for the NBA.

Durant is still able to get 30 a night with relative ease — able to score more, shoot better and dish out more assists on average in Brooklyn than he did during his stints with his previous two franchises. All of that production has come after an Achilles’ injury and after what most would consider his prime.

Remarkable on its face, but considering the venue — New York City — and all the controversies of the past three years, it seems impossible.

KD notes that his achilles injury which cost him a full season and the COVID pandemic made him understand more about himself and his love of the game. When you learn what can be taken away, you appreciate it more. That’s human nature.

“With the pandemic and my Achilles’ injury, I feel like it was a turning point in my career, in my life,” Durant said. “I’m just grateful to be in this position. Obviously, we’ve got a lot going on with our team, but I think that’s just all a part of the journey I’m excited for.”

Lee, like Goodwill, chronicles the “lot going on” as part of his reporting and it is, of course, a legitimate part of where Durant is, but it’s the pure hoopage that is at his core. The other stuff he can deal with ... and again probably at a higher level than ever before.

“There’s pros and cons to everything. But it’s way more pros than it is cons, being who I am,” Durant says. “It’s like, if I want to nitpick, my life is a little crazy at times. I deal with the constant scrutiny — and I don’t even call it scrutiny, because it’s more love than hate, to be honest with you. I’m embracing that responsibility as a part of my job. And understanding that I have influence. I downplayed that a lot, like, ‘I’m just a hooper.’ ”

Lee notes that during his interview with KD, they’re interrupted by an arena worker who asks if Durant would record a message for his son on his cell. Durant obliges, tells the son to pay attention to “this man” and the moment ends with a smile, a hug and a thank you. A microcosm, perhaps, of that larger understanding of Durant’s point: More love that hate.

Durant also talks about another change in his game, his life, in recent years, how he understands he can’t put it all on himself.

“I’ve never done anything I want to do on this Earth of significance by myself,” Durant says. “Even if I win on this team, it’s going to be a contribution from everybody. I never made winning about me, even when I was at Golden State. I could’ve easily stepped out and said, ‘Yeah, this is my s---.’ I never did that. I didn’t even come here to prove to people that I could win on my own.

“I can’t put all the pressure on myself,” he says. “I did that before. You want it all, you want to experience it all, but it wasn’t good for my sanity trying to put everything on me.”

Nor, he says, is it about being in the conversation for the GOAT which by the time he hangs them up may be quite the legitimate talk. It’s about the game, enjoying life and winning.

“It was another pivot,” Durant says of leaving Golden State. “I just wanted to play ball somewhere else. But a lot of people see it as I’m chasing something. And I think it probably stems when I said, ‘I don’t want to be number two no more.’ I was number two in high school, in the draft. But what I had to explain to people was, I had just lost in the Finals. I wanted to go back and win the Finals. It wasn’t about: ‘I want to be the best ever. I want to be better than LeBron or [Michael Jordan].’ I don’t give a s--- about that. I want to wake up every day and do what I do. If we win, I know that stuff comes with me being the best that I can be.”

KD also talks about all the BS about how important could he have been to Golden State if they went out and won without him.

“I hated that,” Durant says. “Riding coattails? That’ll never happen when I’m playing basketball. Either I’m going to step back, so you can go ahead and do your thing, or I’m going to take control.”

He is not unaware of his legacy. Not at all. “I’m proud to be a part of the history of the league and pushing the game forward,” Durant told Lee.

Durant talks as well about how he enjoys New York and the rivalry between the Nets and Knicks and having fun with the fans on Twitter, mostly those who Lee describes as having “keyboard courage.”

In the end, Durant admitted that describing himself as just a hooper doesn’t tell the full story, that basketball writ large is more than a man, a ball and a hoop 10’ off the floor.

“It’s so much that you can learn from being an NBA player,” he says. “Life lessons in basketball. The business around the NBA. There is so much to learn here. So every stop along the way is an experience in order for me to accelerate and be better in the next part of my life.”

For Nets fans, after everything that’s happened, the current winning streak and era of good vibes is a welcome respite. Making it even better is the knowledge that Kevin Durant is under contract with their team for another three and a half years.