Kevin Durant has earned the reputation as being a humble and “cuddly” superstar since he entered the NBA. He’s known for wearing a backpack to his press conferences, giving his mom a kiss before games and last year he was in a kid’s movie.
But this season something’s different.
A couple weeks back I noticed for the first time how Durant seemed to be playing with a chip on his shoulder. Since then, I’ve noticed he has gotten into the habit of talking to himself on the court after bad plays or when he gets frustrated with himself.
There have been a couple of games this season where I’ve noticed Durant cussing under his breath before the TV cameras have been able to catch on what’s happening and pan away.
Nothing big, just something out of character for one of happy guys in the NBA who seemed to always seemed to play the game with a big smile on his face.
This week things escalated when he got ejected from a game for the first time after being demonstrative towards an official. He was waving his hand at the ref and after he got tossed it appeared he said something to the ref that his mom wouldn’t approve of.
“I said it was a bad call,” Durant lamented to the media after the game. “They got a quick trigger now.”
Sure, that might have been what Durant said initially, but watching the video clip of the event it’s clear he was heated and it doesn’t look like that’s what he said after he was tossed from the game. It’s pretty clear watching the video clip that after he got ejected he said something that wouldn’t have impressed his mom.
“I think I’m allowed to be frustrated,” Durant admitted after a little more prodding from the media. “Especially in this league with the ups and downs. Players are allowed to be frustrated. It is what it is. You move on from it.”
That passion was still bubbling under the surface here in Toronto this weekend. In the first half against the Raptors he was visibly upset about something that happened on the court and in the second half Durant got hit with a technical when he said something to the ref about being given an offensive foul.
A teammate needed to guide him back to the bench because Durant was still jawing with the ref and was close to picking up a second technical.
Not only that, but his head coach and teammates have been waiting for this transformation from being a respectful guy to showing that mean streak on the court.
“He’s starting to be a better leader and more outspoken,” Perkins boasted while flashing a rare smile. “That’s what we need him to do. I give him a little advice here and there, but him being to the Western Conference Finals twice and the NBA Finals, he is pretty much picking it up.”
A big part of this passion stems from the fact that Durant battles for every possession on the court. While some players might not care about small plays within the game, everything that happens on the court matters to Durant.
“He got thrown out of a game for the first time in his career, but it’s never happened before and I will be surprised if it happens again in the next five years,” Scott Brooks explained before the game against Toronto which saw Durant pick up another technical.
“He’s an emotional guy,” Brooks continued. “He plays hard and he plays every possession like he wants to win it. I like that (about him) and I like guys that are going to compete. I like having guys that when you go into the game you know he’s going to be right with you fighting for every inch of the floor. Kevin is like that and he has a very easy going personality off of the court but he wants to beat you pretty bad on the court.
After the game against Toronto, Perkins and Eric Maynor were ribbing Durant about being on the verge of losing his rep as a humble guy after he picked up his third technical in less than a week.
Durant just smiled and ignored the friendly ribbing as he continued to get dressed.
However, even though he got ribbed, it’s clear Durant’s teammate and coaches love the passion he plays the game with. Just as his game is involving as a point forward who cleans the glass and facilitates the offense, he’s also becoming a vocal leader whose emotion his teammates are feeding off.
Who cares if it results in Durant picking up a couple technicals along the way? His passion and emotion on the court is clearly something that is giving him an edge this season while giving his teammates an emotional boost.