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.