As sports fans, it’s often difficult to remain dedicated.
The heartbreaking losses pile up (and for most franchises there are far more painful defeats than uplifting wins), which can erode the faith and devotion of even the most ardent fan. In addition, selfish attitudes and/or unconscionable off-the-field behavior by players on our favorite teams can become too much to bear.
Even when things are going swimmingly, disgraceful stupidity can throw things off track. For instance, the 2014 NBA postseason has been nothing short of miraculous. Somehow, these playoff games have provided incredible, edge-of-the-seat entertainment on a near nightly basis. However, a significant chunk of the 2014 postseason has also been unfortunately overshadowed by the specter of Donald T Sterling’s racist ramblings.
Instead of focusing on a stretch of playoff basketball for the ages, including an unprecedented five Game 7s in one weekend – Sterling’s loathsome rants garnered far more national media attention than the action on the court.
The beauty of sport is that it often allows us to escape reality and return to a time when we were blissfully naive to the negative aspects of the games we watch. Before we became aware of how people (some of them unsavory owners) profited from our passion. Before we realized just how many athletes cared far more about their paycheck and their individual statistics then their team’s win-loss record.
As we get older, it becomes more difficult to retain that intensity and passion. Not only does life get in the way – jobs, bills, relationships, etc. – but as we grow older and wiser, the cynicism surrounding professional sports and the hypocrisy of collegiate athletics can drastically diminish the love for sports we once carried as kids.
But, every once in a while, we get a moment that draws us right back in; an occurrence that reminds us why we invest so much time and energy. A moment that rewards all those years of staying up late to watch west coast games, or waking up early to read recaps.
If you are a Trailblazer fan, Damian Lillard’s buzzer-beater at the end of Game 6, propelling Portland past Houston in their first round series, was what it’s all about.
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However, even rarer and more powerful are the moments that impact everyone equally, regardless of which team they may root for.
On Tuesday afternoon, NBA fans were all blessed with such a moment.
Due to his incredible performance during the regular season, Kevin Durant was the odds-on favorite to take home the 2013-14 NBA Most Valuable Player Award. Thus, when it was announced early on Tuesday that Oklahoma City would be holding a press conference to make a major announcement, we all knew what was coming. However, nobody could have guessed just how compelling the presentation would be.
The MVP, by its very nature, is an individual award. It’s is presented to a single player. And make no mistake, Durant posted incredibly impressive individual numbers. In fact, Durant put together one of the finest all-around statistical seasons in recent history. He joined Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlin and Elgin Baylor as just the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 32 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. Durant also became just the second player in the last 30 years to score 32 points per game while shooting above 50 percent from the floor.
Yet, based on the content of Durant’s speech, one never would have guessed the award signified just one player’s incredible accomplishments.
Durant accepted the award surrounded by teammates. And when he stepped to the podium, he spent nearly 25 minutes talking not about his personal success, but rather how much he appreciated his coaches, family and friends.
Chocking back tears throughout, Durant was effusive in genuine praise for almost everyone but himself.
He was also shockingly honest. He candidly discussed how difficult it was to persevere through “tough stretches,” and how he needed to lean on those closest to him during these trying times. In today’s society, especially in the supremely macho world of pro sports, men are supposed to be fearless. Sadly, asking for help, or admitting you are a human being with actual feelings, is almost invariably viewed as a sign of weakness. Thus, being genuine and completely honest is almost an impossibility.
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Durant made it abundantly clear he isn’t overly concerned with society’s archaic expectations of superstar athletes.
The one constant theme throughout Durant’s acceptance speech was “love.” Love for the game; love for his mom; seemingly endless love for all the folks that he felt put him in position to succeed.
“Scott Brooks, I never met anybody like you, so selfless, you don’t take the credit for nothing, even though you deserve all of it. I love you and your family for always taking me in, believing in me,” Durant said of his head coach.
Looking at teammate Russell Westbrook, he avowed: “I love you, man. I love you. A lot of people put unfair criticism on you, as a player, and I’m the first to have your back.”
Durant finished up by pouring out his heart to his mother. “And last, my mom. I don’t think you know what you did. The odds were stacked against us, single parent with two boys by the time you were 21 years old. Everybody told us we weren’t supposed to be here. We moved from apartment to apartment by ourselves. One of the best memories I have is when we moved into our first apartment, no bed, no furniture and we just all sat in the living room and just hugged each other because we thought we made it.”
“When something good happens to you, I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to look back to what brought me here. And you wake me up in the middle night in the summertime, making me run up the hill, making me do push-ups, screaming at me from the sidelines at my games at 8 or 9 years old. We weren’t supposed to be here. You made us believe, you kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry, you sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.”
Durant is everything that’s right with the NBA. He is the most talented scorer on the planet, but is it possible he may be an even better person than player?
Durant is remarkably even keeled on the floor. He rarely displays his emotions overtly. But on this day, it was impossible to disguise the fact that he truly loves what he does for a living. He loves the game that we love, as much as we love it.
In the end, I guess that’s all we can ask of the athletes we root for – that they care as much as we do.
It’s truly a shame the audio of Durant’s MVP acceptance speech won’t receive a fraction of the attention that the sickening Sterling sound bites did. Details of Durant’s speech haven’t been plastered across the front page of papers and magazines from coast-to-coast. I assume TMZ won’t post footage of Durant hugging his teammates. The story hasn’t been the lead story on any of 11 o’clock news broadcasts that I’ve seen.
Maybe that reflects as poorly on us (the consumers) as it does on them (content providers)?
Either way, Durant’s speech is a reminder that it’s okay to root as intensely as so many of us do. That passion isn’t necessarily misplaced. Sure, there are plenty of bad apples scattered throughout professional sports. There are players that get paid millions and take it all for granted. Plenty of people are blessed with incredible gifts and senselessly squander them.
But there are also guys like Durant out there. Thus, there’s a possibility that your favorite team will draft a kid like him, which means you’ll have an opportunity to one day root for a guy like him. And that makes being a sports fan well worth it.
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