Kevin Durant is my favorite basketball player.
This isn’t really groundbreaking, nor is it all that interesting considering he’s the second-best basketball player on the planet. It sounds like frontrunning, if anything.
Still, especially this time of year, I’m reminded that while he was a consensus top pick, not everyone believed in this scrawny college player who couldn’t bench press 185 pounds (do you even lift, 19-year-old Kevin Durant?) and his ability to grow into an NBA star.
To wit, I made the most insane bet ever with my friend Dave in the summer of 2007. If, on the date either of us had a first child born, Rudy Gay was a better NBA player than Kevin Durant, Dave would have the right to name my first-born child. If Durant was better, I would have the right to name his.
It was a stupid bet, and it neglected one major factor – with some exceptions, you can’t have a child without a female counterpart. So when Dave had a beautiful daughter in November of 2012, and Durant was much better than Gay to that point, I forfeited my right to name his child. In return, his lovely wife agreed to allow me to live, and Dave voided a slap-bet he held over me.
|On Baby’s Birthday||GP||PPG||PER||TS%||Playoff Wins|
On Friday night, Dave will be coming to Toronto and we’ll be heading to see the Toronto Raptors host Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, courtesy of Raptors Republic. It will be the first time I’ve ever seen Durant live, due to a somewhat random string of events that have conspired to keep me from attending on the four previous occasions that Durant visited Toronto (where he’s 2-2 and has averaged 22.8 points on just 43.6 percent shooting).
I’m pretty excited. As I said, I’ve been on the Durant train since day one.
My Rookie Year
In fact, a shade over seven years ago, I wrote my first blog post ever, a 3,400 word mammoth NCAA Tournament preview that probably all of 10 people read. I re-read it recently because I am a masochist, and here’s what I had to say about Durant, then with Texas under insufferable head coach Rick Barnes:
(Round 1) Kevin Durant can’t handle a bunch of banditos? This is like the first level in a video game where you face a bunch of terrible enemies in the first level (e.g. foot soldiers) to let you get used to the controls before fighting real opponents.
(Round 2) KD’s line: 41 points, 17 rebounds, just a hunch. Either way, there is no stopping this guy (except, to keep the game close and force Rick Barnes to lose it for them, but Arkansas doesn’t have the fire power to stay close).
(Round 3) Really tough call here, but I love Kevin Durant too much not to do it. I know, pick with your brain, not your heart, but he’s my only “love” in the tourney.
(Round 4) Toughest call on the bracket, I actually JUST changed it this moment. Durant is good, but Georgetown is deep enough to keep the game close the whole time, Barnes is a brutal coach, and Augustin doesn’t seem 100% comfortable in late game situations.
Needless to say, I don’t recommend going back and reading your old work. Texas was knocked out by USC in the second round but at least I had Georgetown in the Final Four, right?
(Side note: I later named Durant to something I called an All-NBA team based on future potential, a squad that also included Mike Conley, Corey Brewer, Brendan Wright, Grge Oden…and Acie Law and Julian Wright.)
Later that spring, I would debate several friends about whether or not Durant should be the top pick over Greg Oden, an argument I was in the minority on. It was anything but a slam dunk at the time, and it’s not like identifying a guy as number two overall means you’re low on him, but I don’t let my debate opponents forget it. Forget your defeats, hang on to your victories, right?
Kevin Durant is going to be the better NBA player, an enormous game changer, and a guy with a lot of finger bling by the end of his career. Stick him with just one complementary player or a decent coach and his ceiling stretches higher and higher. He’s the perfect player to build a franchise around. There is nothing he doesn’t do well, nothing he can’t do for your team, and he holds limitless potential.
(Did I really say finger bling? Jesus H. I also later suggested if Durant landed in Seattle, the team wouldn’t move because they’d be better equipped to get a stadium deal done with a superstar. Oops.)
That’s a lot of looking back on some thoughts I expressed poorly seven years ago, about a player that most at least conceded could be very good. If you think I’m being a little too up my own ass, I’ll share a shameful admission: despite being a UCLA fan, I once wrote that I thought Jerryd Bayless would make a better pro than Russell Westbrook. I am the worst.
In any case, seven years later I remain more attached to Durant than I am to any non-Raptors player, save for maybe Ray Allen (the first jersey I ever owned). I have a Durant Sonics jersey, a Durant Thunder jersey and a Durant All-Star jersey. I write about him at theScore whenever I can craft even the loosest narrative. If the Raptors aren’t on, the Thunder are the first team I fire up on League Pass.
Again, none of this makes me special. Plenty of people loved and love Durant, loved and love the Thunder. This isn’t meant to make me feel good, I’m just sharing, because on Friday I’ll finally get to see Durant up close(-ish) and in person. I’ll be rooting for the Raptors, of course, but I won’t be displeased if Durant drops 40 in a loss.
Vegas says: The line is even at the time of this writing with an over-under of 204. I believe the pick-‘em line is a low-limit placeholder, since the Thunder are presently in action. However…
Hollinger says: Not accounting for Thursday’s result, Raptors -1.5
Blake says: Seriously, the Raptors have been that good. They’re not as good as the Thunder, but they’re close enough that the power ratings favor them at home, and maybe Vegas does see it as an even game considering OKC will be on the second game of a back-to-back.
Limiting the advantage of OKC’s situation some is that Westbrook is sitting out on Thursday, meaning he’ll play on Friday. The Thunder clearly respect the Raptors more than the Cavaliers. The Thunder remain without Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha, however, though their absences even out since Perkins sitting helps them and Thabo sitting hurts.
I don’t have an update at the time of writing on the statuses of Jonas Valanciunas or Patrick Patterson, though either would be an immense help in this one. With the Raptors so thin in the frontcourt, the Thunder are free to go with Durant-Serge Ibaka and Durant-Nick Collison frontcourt pairings – not only do the Raptors have nobody to guard Durant in either case, they have nobody capable of taking advantage of him on the other end. That also allows Scott Brooks to roll out two point guards, which has been an extremely favorable look for the Thunder.
All of that is to say that I don’t like the Raptors chances. The Thunder are travelling but should beat the Cavs handedly, allowing for some rest, and Westbrook is a go. The Raptors barely handled the Anthony Davis-less Pelicans in their current, banged-up form. Maybe it was all the Durant love, or maybe I’m a bad fan. I mean, I want the Raptors to win, and I’ll be as happy as anyone if they pull it out, but I have a feeling Friday’s not the night. I’ll say the Thunder take it by five and Dave gets drunk enough that I can win a bet for the naming rights to his second child.
The game tips off at 7 p.m. on Sportsnet One.
P.S. Durant to the Raptors in 2016, right? He was a Raptors fan! Do it, Masai.
UPDATE (5:27 PM)
Jonas valanciunas will likely play tonight. Gonna make sure he is ok pre game
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) March 21, 2014