KEVIN DURANT HAS SEEN THE YOUTUBE VIDEOS. The ones where he drains so many threes the crowd rushes the court to touch the hem of his garment. The ones where his step-backs and crossovers turn defenders into extras from The Walking Dead. The ones where, with his Bambi gait, he shuts down more crap than Congress. The ones where he out-LeBrons LeBron. On his extended summer vacation, Durant took his game to the playground courts of LA, DC and NYC. The highlights became the “Lazy Sunday” of the lockout. On them, freed from the formality of the NBA, Durant plays with frivolity. Nothing is at stake. The game is just the game. And he is just a kid, standing on the court, letting the crowd love him.
DURANT RAINED 48 POINTS at the CP3 Foundation All-Star Game in early October. Scored 50 a week later at the Drew vs. Goodman rematch. In one now-legendary August game at Harlem’s Rucker Park, he dropped 66 points, his shots falling hard like a fat lady’s pants. There were more than 150 clips of the game on YouTube.
By mid-October, the most popular one, Kevin Durant Catches Fire in Harlem, had 3.2 million views. To watch it is to witness a crowd growing incredulous, then delirious. To watch it is to see a man having a moment.
It’s a month after the videos first began circulating, and Durant is eating wings at Hooters. He does not register the orange-and-tan waitresses or their tank tops. His eyes are fixed on flat screens and football. “This summer?” he asks, wrinkling his forehead. “All I was doing was hooping. I didn’t feel any different. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t done before.”
When told that the word going around the hoops world is that the games prove he’s finally grown up, that baby Durant has at long last become a man, that he’ll emerge from the lockout as the league’s new alpha male and claim a fistful of rings for his long-suffering franchise, he scoffs. “I did it because I wanted to play,” he says. “Simple.”
At 23, Durant looks both older and younger than he is. His face still stubbornly holds on to its round-cheeked boyishness, a teenage Jamie Foxx. But his eyes seem from another, darker time — wiser, more resigned. Durant insists that the player people swooned over on the playground is the same player who dons the royal-blue Thunder uniform. He figures that the lockout just left people hungry, that a saltine tastes like steak to a starving man.
“I felt like I was just being me,” he says, swallowing a fried cheese stick. His pickup games were not, he stresses, about PR, nor were they about staying in the lockout limelight. “I was actually surprised by the attention it got,” he says with some chagrin. “I wasn’t doing it to get noticed.”