Even as a shy teenager, Kevin Durant expressed himself about one thing: his disdain for the nickname Durantula. He was a 19-year-old rookie phenom with the Seattle SuperSonics when people started to use the pun for fun, and he wasn’t having it.
“Call me KD,” he said then and still repeats now. “Just KD is fine.”
Twelve years ago, Durant didn’t seem to have many opinions. His life revolved around the gym and video games, and on most other matters, he went with the flow. But he was adamant about how you referred to him. He refused to let Durantula crawl into the NBA vernacular. He didn’t want to let the obsession with his impossibly long arms and legs turn him into a thing. He wanted to be a person — an extraordinary one but still a person.
He lives by the introduction line on his Twitter handle, which he wrote 10 years ago: “IM ME, I DO ME, AND I CHILL.”
Just KD is fine. Nothing else. In this postseason, Durant is playing some of the best basketball in his life, which is quite a statement considering his Hall of Fame résumé: 10-time all-star, four-time scoring champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP, 2013-14 regular season MVP.
This is the platform Durant always wanted, even though he won’t admit it. He’s not in the shadow of LeBron James, who is home for the playoffs. More people love Stephen Curry because he’s a rather regular-size dude and can make shots from the equator, but in these playoffs, Durant is the undisputed driving force on the Golden State Warriors. He’s not riding their championship coattails, and in fact, that has always been true in his three seasons in the Bay Area. But during this run, he is carrying them more than usual, and finally you should be seeing him as a necessity and not the greatest luxury in NBA history. Unless you’re some stubborn knucklehead clinging to outdated perceptions, Durant should be changing minds with both his greatness and the Warriors’ need for it.
Durant, a native of Prince George’s County, is making his strongest case for the unofficial title of best player in the world. For most of his career, he has lurked between Nos. 2 and 3 on that list, and maybe he still is. But with James out of the way temporarily, you are able to have an unobstructed appreciation of Durant and his game, which might be the most complete skill set the sport has ever seen. And best of all to Durant, he’s doing it his way.
He’s Durant, he does Durant, and he chills. He loves these playoffs because nothing else is being asked of him. Speculation about his potential free agency this summer doesn’t matter right now. The focus is on the Warriors’ bid to win their third straight title and the perseverance and adjustments required to make that happen.
This is what KD lives for; if he had become Durantula, perhaps he would be a fame monster. While we can blame him for feeding the innuendo by refusing to commit long-term to Golden State, it doesn’t mean he did it for attention. Is he too sensitive about a situation he created? Yes. But does he have the right to be flexible about his career options and methodical in choosing where he wants to play out the rest of his prime? Absolutely.
Durant enjoys the riches of being a great basketball player, but if you took them away, he’s one person that I guarantee would still be consumed by the game. He just tolerates the fame — or, more accurately, he tolerates the conditions we place on fame.
In some respects, he’s an anti-superstar in the same way that Tim Duncan was, but Durant is much more of a people pleaser. He can be high maintenance, too, but that need to please gets him in trouble the most. He wants to be approachable and accommodating, and in return, he wants to be given a break. Celebrity doesn’t really work that way. So when the speculation and criticism reach an intolerable level, he turns surly. He seems angry, but it’s more like he feels betrayed. He retreats within himself. And then he returns as a nice guy again.
Sometimes we read Durant improperly because we’re evaluating him through traditional basketball logic. He doesn’t live by that code, however. For instance, his controversial decision in 2016 to join the 73-win Warriors was portrayed as a ring-collecting mission. He cheated the system, supposedly, because he couldn’t win one on his own. He wanted the easy way out. In reality, his motivations were to find joy, to play a better style of basketball and to move to a bigger city for the life experience and the business opportunities.
There’s no doubt that Durant wanted a championship-caliber situation, but he wasn’t intent on stacking the deck. It’s just that Golden State offered too enticing of an opportunity. He could have stayed in Oklahoma City or played any number of places and still felt great about his title chances. He could have gone to a team that didn’t require him to sacrifice as much as he has with the Warriors. He could have gone to a team that didn’t require him to play as much defense or utilize his versatility as much as his scoring. Instead, he went to the Warriors to grow as a player.
When you watch how ideally he fits into the Golden State system, when you see how all the components of his diverse game have been activated, you understand this was about more than the accumulation of rings. For as much as Durant stands out, he’s also a player who likes to blend into the background from time to time. We judged him by thinking that he only wanted to make an easy legacy play. But there’s a side of Durant infatuated with being connected to something greater.
Now he’s a 30-year-old single man with an unsettled personal life and hordes of people telling him that his accomplishments still aren’t great enough. And he listens. As much as he hates it, he listens. So after this season, he will consider leaving the Warriors, which sounds absurd if the goal is to chase as many championships as possible. But, again, Durant lives and thinks independently. When it’s time to make a decision, I think he’ll attempt to balance comfort, basketball and the opportunity for another fresh life experience.
But right now, he’s busy performing. In eight playoff games, he’s averaging 34.3 points while shooting 52.7 percent overall, 40.7 percent on three-point attempts and 90.5 percent from the foul line. If he keeps this up and wins another title, it would be the finest postseason performance of a career in which he has averaged 29.1 points in 135 playoff games.
And while we’re freaking out about what an efficient assassin Durant can be, all is quiet to him. He’s just playing basketball, and the world cares only about how he’s playing. He’s in his favorite zone.
It has been a little more than two weeks since Durant declared: “I’m Kevin Durant. You know how I am. Y’all know who I am.” Since then, he has left no doubt about who he is.
Kevin Durant — or just KD is fine. Not Durantula. Not the Slim Reaper, either. Let him be Durant, do Durant and chill. His game is plenty entertaining.