Wanda Pratt may have gotten the best Mother’s Day gift of any mom this year: A heartfelt, public thank-you from her son, Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar who is the NBA’s newest MVP. In a tearful and heartfelt speech that quickly became an Internet sensation, Durant called his mom “the real MVP” and thanked her for the sacrifices she made raising him and his brother, Anthony, as a struggling single mom and federal employee in Prince George’s County. (Watch the full video.) We caught up with Pratt — now known to many as “Mama Durant” — by phone in Oklahoma, where she attended the MVP ceremony. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Did you expect Kevin to say the things he did in his speech?
I believed that he would mention me, of course, but I didn’t believe it would be to that magnitude. I was pleasantly surprised that he remembered those tough times. What was most precious to me was that he remembered our first home. I hadn’t taken furniture there yet; I wanted us to go in first to see the apartment. For me, it did feel like we had arrived. It was first time I was on my own, and it was so special to me that he remembered that.
What kind of sacrifices did you make raising Kevin and his brother?
I sacrificed a lot of my personal time. I was always there, always a part of what they were doing. I knew the staff of the rec center. Sometimes, I’m sure, they felt like I was hovering. Sometimes I had to use my retirement [money] to go on camps and trips with the team. There were times when I went to bed hungry; financially, things were a little tight, but I knew also I just had to continue on. I could have called my mom and my sister to help, but pride kind of sets in.
What’s your relationship with Kevin like now? Has it changed?
No! People are saying nice things about him and I don’t mean to minimize it, but to everyone else in the world he’s Kevin Durant. To me he’s just Kevin, who happens to be an NBA player. My goal wasn’t to get my son to the NBA; my goal was to push my son toward his dream.
How did you push him?
Once you become dedicated to something, there’s a process you have to follow through. But I didn’t say it that way. I would not allow him to quit. There were times when he wanted to quit, but he couldn’t quit in the middle of a season. You had to finish what you started. And I told him he would have to do something — a different sport, whatever he was interested in. There had to be an activity outside of home.
How do you feel when someone criticizes him?
I’ve been watching my son play all his life and I know his game very well. I’ll watch the play they’re criticizing, and if they’re correct, they’re correct. This is Kevin’s place of employment, his job. I take it with a grain of salt.
I took offense one time and responded publicly. The Oklahoman newspaper had a headline that said, “Mr. Unreliable.” I tweeted, “Typical Oklahoman on Kevin. UNBELIEVABLE!! KEVIN is RELIABLE!!” I felt that it was too harsh for him and I was hurt for him. But all is forgiven.
Any advice for other parents with talented kids like Kevin?
Never quit; a way will be made. He may have ended up as a postal worker or a coach at the rec center. There were things he couldn’t take part in; different camps, different trips that I couldn’t afford. You just have to make the sacrifices you’re asked to make, and if you can’t, you can’t. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you can’t do it.
You’ve recently become a motivational speaker. What’s it like to be known as “Kevin Durant’s mom?”
All of the lessons I’d been trying to instill in my sons, I’ve had to take those same messages when it came to me. It was a process of focusing on what my purpose is. I have to pursue it with as much energy and dedication as my sons, and now I understand it’s not as easy as I told them it was.
But I don’t have anyone waking me up at 3 in the morning telling me to run those hills.