Wednesday, May 28, 2014
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in May 2014
Here’s a final thought from Durant that will stick with me: “Basketball is just a platform in order for me to inspire people.” Mission accomplished, Mr. Durant.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
He stood behind a podium, all 6’9” of him, adorned with in-vogue spectacles and a dapper suit, and bared his soul. His unguarded honesty was befitting of a living room chat with only family and close friends, not the nationwide audience in attendance. To his credit, he ignored the millions of eyes and ears, focused on the important few and reduced a massive moment to a quaint, deeply personal and inspiring conversation. He shed many tears. So did his teammates. So did this writer. So what?
It lasted just over 26 minutes – epic by acceptance speech standards. Kevin Durant was the mouthpiece behind this masterpiece. A local Prince George’s County prodigy, Durant was a one-and-done college star at Texas, the second overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and is now, inarguably, one of the two best basketball players residing on Earth (LeBron James being the other). Durant has done amazing things on a basketball court - scoring titles, Olympic gold medals, putting relatively tiny Oklahoma City on the professional sports map – but this, his NBA MVP acceptance speech, may be his finest basketball moment. If you only caught the CliffsNotes version broadcast by our hyper-speed, attention-deficit media, I recommend a comprehensive, encore viewing courtesy of other Internet outlets. Durant delivered a moment to be appreciated for its full content and substance, not truncated for brevity.
His speech checked all the common and obligatory blocks. Durant thanked the organization for drafting him, his coaches for pushing him and the fans for their support. He acknowledged the writers’ votes and the motivation gleaned from his doubters. But he went deeper - much deeper. Durant, a relatively quiet, soft-spoken superstar, exposed a thoughtfulness and tenderness rarely seen in sports. It was a side of Durant that, frankly, I didn’t know existed. At the beginning of the speech, in half-hearted anticipation of the humdrum, I was barely paying attention. At the 26-minute mark, having been introduced to the real Kevin Durant, his journey and his awareness of its complexities, I was wiping tears off my cheeks.
Durant broke from the script by thanking his teammates – individually. He literally went “around the table” and identified each man’s specific contribution to his ascension to NBA MVP. The specificity and uniqueness of Durant’s “thank yous” left no doubt that the MVP felt genuinely indebted to his teammates for their boosts of energy, positive thinking and encouragement. He noted the smiles of younger teammates, the push from veterans, supportive text messages from Kendrick Perkins and a simply “KD MVP” note left in his locker by Caron Butler after a tough losing streak – a story that left both men in tears.
Durant then turned to his mother, who he called the real MVP, and delivered his most powerful moment. He credited his mother with overcoming the financial challenges of being a single mother of two boys, keeping those boys off the street, managing many moves and shortages of food and beating overwhelming odds. Durant summed up his tribute best when he said, with his voice quivering, “Mom, I don’t think you know what you did.” She probably didn’t. The best moms don’t. Few need to. It – sacrificing for their children and finding a way – is just what they do.
In 26 minutes, Kevin Durant reintroduced himself and provided everyone within earshot a lot to contemplate. I did the exercise. I’m still doing it. Here are my Durant-notes…so far. Success and emotional investment are indelibly linked; if you don’t feel it, it will be hard to be it. Humility is one of the most important traits a leader can possess. Adversity should re-fuel determination, not diminish it. Relationships are forged by listening, paying attention to detail and accentuating the best in people. Anything…is still quite possible. Everyone you encounter has something positive to offer. Achievement by the one, no matter how great, is an outcome supported by the many – especially a selfless, tough, determined and loving parent.
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)
Were the Bad Boy Pistons cool? In their day, yes, but sports have evolved. Look around. Football is less violent. MLB banned home plate collisions. NBA rules have outlawed old-school Pistons basketball. Sportsmanship is up; violence is down. Boorish behavior is now mostly jeered, not cheered. Has society followed suit? We are more tolerant, but remain a work in social progress (Donald Sterling anyone?). Are we less violent and more respectful? When faced with an antagonist, are we as capable of turning the other cheek – a sign of real strength - like LeBron James? I’m skeptical. Our games are better for the changes. Wouldn’t we be wise to tag along? If you disagree, keep watching antiquated Pistons re-runs. But please don’t ask me to re-enact those Nerf basketball games to satisfy your blood-thirst. I likely wouldn’t…even if I could.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Before electronic devices overwhelmed good old-fashioned horsing around, my cousins and I used Nerf basketball rims to play a hybrid basketball/football game. It was brutal. Being the oldest and biggest, I played the role of rim defender. My younger kin were, essentially, willing and persistent crash test dummies. In ridiculously confined spaces and with breakables all around, they would fake dribble (Nerf balls never bounced well), burst down “the lane”, leap and meet the full force of their older cousin. There were no referees, only our honor and pride. In other words, there was no griping or complaining and absolutely no tears. The rules were simple: if they scored, I’d increase the brutality; if they failed and took more than three seconds to get up, I’d lighten up…theoretically.
The game/wrestling match was inspired by the late-80’s, early 90’s NBA basketball we grew up watching. As the last line of defense, I thought of myself not as the rail thin, physically unimposing kid I was, but as Bill Laimbeer or Alonzo Mourning. Score on me at the cup? Without pain? I think not. My cousins were Michael Jordan or Dominique Wilkins, ferociously attacking the rim with no regard for life or limb. The absence of broken bones I can only attribute to the rubber skeletal systems of our youth. Needless to say, those epic battles are only talked about these days; they aren’t reproduced.
A recent ESPN 30 for 30 piece on the similar-vintage Bad Boy Detroit Pistons reminded me of our epic family clashes. Those Pistons, featuring the likes of Rick Mahorn and the aforementioned Laimbeer, thugs among NBA thugs, and Isiah Thomas, a phenomenal player whose basketball skill is often overshadowed by his adeptness as an antagonist, were perhaps the first NBA team to embrace being the league’s big, bad bully. They weren’t as interested in beating elegant high-flyers like Jordan or Clyde Drexler as they were in breaking their will through constant physical abuse. Compromise an opponent’s nerve, make him shy about going to the hole, and the scoreboard will take care of itself. It worked, to the tune of back-to-back NBA Championships and it spawned several copycats – Pat Riley’s New York Knicks and Miami Heat, most notably – around the league.
I hated those Pistons teams, but I respected their style of play. The game now is, well, much softer. Elegance and rhythmic flow sell better than a street fight - allegedly. My cousins and I often scoff at what is considered a flagrant foul in today’s game and what today’s stars - LeBron James in particular - complain is excessive contact. Our reply to James’ whoa-is-me facial contortions is usually something like, “LeBron is a pansy…he wouldn’t have survived back in the day.” The truth: James could’ve dominated in any era. Confession: I’ve warmed to James’ approach.
Shaquille O’Neal possessed many fine qualities – size, athleticism and a sense of humor – but his ability to absorb hit after malicious hit and resist the temptation to respond with violent force is what I admired most. Shaq would have been justified inflicting harm on opponents in nearly every game…but refrained. LeBron James is a giant with a similar disposition – and I have tremendous respect for his temperance. Yesterday’s “soft” is today’s “wise and mature.”