Wearing black browline glasses, an aqua-colored shirt and white slacks, Kevin Durant sauntered through a hallway at the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown last week with the confidence of an accomplished star, far removed from being the pimple-faced teenager who entered the league five years ago hoping to one day earn a perch among the NBA elite.
But in an instant, Durant offered a reminder that — despite the three NBA scoring titles and the Olympic gold medal he added to his resume this month in London — there remains a youthful spirit behind the maturity. Durant passed over the bottled waters and sodas at a table of snacks and beverages, punched a mini straw into a Capri Sun and contently slurped away until the container shriveled up.
Back home in Washington for a brief reprieve to promote and premiere for family and friends his feature film debut, “Thunderstruck,” Durant also wanted to let it be known that while he won’t turn 24 until late September, the Oklahoma City all-star forward considers himself too much of an essential element of the NBA’s present to be clumped into discussions about its future.
“I’ve heard a few times, in three or four years, this league is going to be yours. . . . I don’t like that. Because I think I’m established now. My time is now,” Durant said. “I feel as though I’ve proved myself these last five years that I can be one of the top players in the league. I’ve got a long way to go to being the ultimate best, but I think my time is now. And I’m starting to enter my prime.”
Durant explained that he felt he belonged in the discussion of the league’s best since playing in the 2011 All-Star Game in Los Angeles but has mostly kept that sentiment bottled up, because, “I don’t like to talk about myself, but I had to get that out there.”
He probably felt a bit more comfortable after a dominant run this summer for the U.S. Men’s National Team, capped off by his 30-point outburst in the closely contested gold medal victory against Spain. Durant led the team — which featured nine all-stars, including two Finals MVPs and regular season MVPs in Kobe Bryant and LeBron James — in scoring at 19.5 points and set a new American men’s record for most points scored in an Olympic tournament with 156.
“I always felt that I belonged on top with those guys and I just have to continue to keep working to maintain that,” Durant said. “It feels good to be a part of a great group of guys, to do something special for the country. We all respected each other and they never looked at me as the younger guy coming up and waiting his turn. They were just, ‘Go out there and play, do what you do.’ And that’s what I did.”
Durant didn’t take any time to rest after the Olympics, as he was quickly thrust into promoting his new movie, which opened in theaters on Friday. He plays himself in the family comedy, in which he magically swaps basketball talents with a hopeless teenager who becomes the hero of his high school basketball team while Durant and his Thunder founder.
“I’m a basketball player. That’s what I do and what I love but that’s just not all who I am. I’m talented in a lot of different areas,” said Durant, adding that he might put out a rap album in the near future.
Durant joins other NBA superstars turned movie stars, such as Michael Jordan in “Space Jam” and Shaquille O’Neal in “Kazaam.” Durant said he understood the considerable risk of stepping into an arena in which he had no prior experience aside from a few commercials, but he credited his mother, Wanda Pratt, for convincing him to make the movie.
“The thing that I was more concerned about is that I was just so shy. I didn’t want to look dumb,” Durant said, when asked if he had any apprehension about doing the movie, which he filmed last year in Louisiana during the NBA lockout. “She told me don’t worry about that. You can’t let other people dictate how you live. She gave me a whole little speech. I said, ‘Why not?’ I want people to see another side of me that they don’t see on the basketball court.
“When people are used to you doing something, they want you to stay in that lane,” Durant said, adding that he has received text messages from James and fellow Olympic teammates Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony telling him that they planned to take their children to see the movie. “But I had the courage to do something else and most people don’t want to see you do that. I really don’t care. I’m going to enjoy it. My family is going to enjoy it and people that go into it with an open mind are going to enjoy it.”
Durant has had an eventful few months, with Oklahoma City losing in the Finals, winning a gold medal and starring in a movie, but he said the experience in London stands out among them all. “That’s the top for sure. Not just because we won the gold. It’s just the memories that we had while we was over there. Every day was fun,” Durant said. “It felt good to win the gold medal but I learned a lot by losing in the Finals and just going through every single obstacle throughout the season, the ups and downs. I can learn a lot more from losing and going through tough times rather than just winning it and going from there.”
Since the Heat claimed the NBA championship, several teams have reloaded this offseason, most notably the Lakers, who added three-time defensive player of the year Dwight Howard, two-time MVP Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison to the mix.
“We all are going to have to compete. I don’t think no team is going to lay down for anybody,” Durant said. “Everybody has got to play and I like our chances.”
Durant revealed his urgency to win with his tearful exit following Oklahoma City’s loss to Miami in Game 5. Nothing is promised beyond this moment, which made the Olympic gold medal that Durant won two weeks ago in London that much more fulfilling, but he said he would continue to move at his current pace, with the expectation that he’ll eventually seize his moment with an NBA title.
“I’m not going to let people define my career as a player thus far if I don’t win a championship,” he said. “They are going to say I’m a bust or I flopped or that I didn’t have a good career in the NBA because I didn’t win a championship in the time that they wanted me to do it? I’m just going to keep enjoying what I’m doing and hopefully I get there sooner than later.”