There are a lot of really cool things about Kevin Durant. He’s smooth on camera, he has a final moments stare that puts anti-freeze in your gut, and his shot is so pure you’d swear Walter White cooked it up. This weekend at the Goodman Coalition over at Springarn High School in North East DC, I added another to the list of reasons Velvet Hoop is so smooth.
No, he didn’t drop 66 or even 36. And yes, his team was eliminated from the playoffs. But far more important than his performance or the score was the easy and impressive manner with which he breezed around the sweltering high school gymnasium. He didn’t sit in the corner surrounded by his group, or hide out in the locker room until game time. Instead the millionaire 23 year old in low-top sneakers sought out old friends to dap up, cruising around the gym with a smile on his face and his signature backpack strapped high across his shoulder blades.
Kevin Durant has been playing in the Goodman League since he was 16. Back then, winning and losing on the knee-obliterating blacktop of Barry Farms probably meant a lot more than it does now. Today, it’s about getting to play with his big (in every sense) brother Tony in front of the people he grew up with. It’s about the kids running around the court during timeouts like it’s a JV summer league game, probably unaware that for most people, standing four feet from KD costs about $500.
That’s not to say those in attendance were treated to an MVP-level performance. Durant’s shot was broke, he lost the ball on a few drives, got lit up by And One’s Baby Shaq from deep and pounded by him on the box and, excepting a string of resounding “yep I’m on another level” cocked-back right handed hammerslams, Durant wasn’t a ton more than the tallest guy on the court.
He barked and glared at the refs and clapped angrily when his brother whiffed on a lay up. These were signs he definitely cared about winning, but the rest of his play said he wasn’t about to push it.
That’s fine. I consider myself lucky to have seen his liquid release, slippery crossover and long strides up close, and I bet everyone else there felt the same. Much of the crowd traveled to the game from Washington’s troubled South East quarter, home of the original Goodman outdoor league and where no one much cares that KD’s torso is covered with business tats.
How many of those people are going to fork over the $75 to see Durant in person the one time that the Thunder travel to Washington each year? And that’s from the nosebleeds.
I made the trip out to Spingarn– where by the way only 13 percent of students met or exceeded mandated standards– because I wanted to see Durant ball. I left thinking about the awed and expectant expressions on the face of his hometown admirers as waves approached him for autographs, pictures, or just to catch up and exchange numbers. One thing you don’t appreciate until you see it up close is that these days literally everyone has a camera on his or her phone. Five years ago, his exit takes about half as long. Now everyone is a paparazzo.
Still Durant was calm and welcoming, even Zen-like in his patient, smiling poses. In a gym choking on humidity, with guys frying wings on the sidewalk outside and a circle of friends and onlookers surrounding him just off the court, KD looked right at home–because he was.