The bearded barber who used to cut Kevin Durant’s hair low and close didn’t like the idea of his former client playing Monday night in Game 5 of the NBA Finals while still recovering from a calf injury.
The roller-skating grandma who attended the championship parade two years ago in Durant’s honor wailed, “Nooooo!” when she saw Durant lose the ball, bounce toward the sideline and then crumple to the court, pinching his right ankle.
The paralyzed sneakerhead who remembers when Durant once stopped by his store instantly knew it was an Achilles’ injury, though he hoped he was wrong. The Golden State Warriors, of course, confirmed that suspicion after the game.
Inside Scotiabank Arena, gloom painted the faces of Durant’s Warriors teammates. Some Toronto Raptors fans cheered the sight of a fallen Durant, then mercifully applauded every assisted step he took toward the locker room. NBA players tweeted mournful salutes, and fans around the globe extended sympathies. But when Durant left the game with a significant leg injury, one that could alter his career, the pain was perhaps most deeply felt at his home base.
“When I saw him fall, when he went down, I actually looked away,” said Melvin McCray, who coached Durant with the 9-and-under team at the Seat Pleasant Activity Center. “Because I knew. I said, 'That’s it.’ ”
Around Prince George’s County, Md., and especially in the city that hugs the borders of the District, Seat Pleasant, almost everyone has a Durant connection. The NBA superstar’s Seat Pleasant roots spread from the soul food cafe on Martin Luther King Highway to the recreation center where he used to sleep bundled under the court curtain because he stayed all day long.
Inside the humble community center, which houses a space for senior citizens and a renovated gym courtesy of the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation, McCray said the kid who turned into a superstar can always come back here for a spread of Maryland blue crab with family and friends and just be “Kevin.” They view him as the shy and quiet boy who loved playing basketball.
“We don’t look at Kevin as ‘KD,’ ” McCray said. “I still see the 8- or 9-year-old kid that’s running around in the gym.”
It explains why Durant’s injury twinged the hearts of those who have known him the longest.
“It’s just one of those things where you’re so excited,” said Stu Vetter, who coached Durant at Montrose Christian School in Rockville, “and then at the end you feel empty.”
Vetter helped send nine players to the NBA but never had a kid quite like Durant. He would show up to the Montrose gym at 6:30 a.m. to get up shots with then-assistant coach Dave Adkins, who now works with the Washington Wizards. As Vetter watched Game 5 in his living room and saw the injury, his thoughts drifted back to the teenage player who beat everyone to the gym.
“He likes to play the game probably as much as anybody I’ve ever coached,” Vetter said. “When he got hurt, I felt such a deep sadness for him. I think that sadness was felt throughout the game of basketball.”
Que Page, the owner of Q’s Barber Shop in Seat Pleasant, tuned into the game but was busy grilling salmon shish kebabs the moment Durant went down. Page’s expertise may be hair — he would use a one-inch clipper guard against the grain of Durant’s head — but he’s like any other armchair coach, believing Game 5 was too soon for a comeback. Durant had sat out more than a month recuperating from a calf strain.
“I knew he wasn’t ready,” Page said. “I think he came back because he wanted to help so much.”
Barbara Herring’s joy over Durant’s return to the court turned to horror as she watched the game at her favorite roller-skating rink.
“He’s got a lot of supporters in the area,” said Herring, reliving the disappointment during a lunch break at Keith & Sons Soul Food cafe, where employees said Durant favors the mac and cheese and chicken wings. “You got somebody that left here and is playing somewhere else but does take care of where he’s from.”
Two years ago, Spencer Hawkins shattered his vertebrae while playing flag football. He’s been paralyzed since but still drops hundreds of dollars on his favorite player’s shoes, the KD 6s. To him, Durant is more than a distant superstar. He’s the hero next-door.
At midnight Tuesday, Hawkins logged onto Instagram. He wanted to send Durant some encouragement from back home.
“ . . . DMV all day [I’m] from pg and always support you,” Hawkins said, concluding his message, “ . . . heal up.”