On the court, Durant has always been known for his scoring and rim-rocking poster jams, and he still is. Only now, there's a dash of distributional responsibilities, a smidgen of additional rebounding prowess and a large helping of understated defending.
But that's neither here nor there.
Durant's always been the type of player and exuded the type of diligence that suggested he would continue to get better.
Little did we know, that getting "better" also meant getting "meaner," as well.
June 28, 2007: Nice Guys Get Drafted Second
In 2007, it was all about Greg Oden.
The Portland Trail Blazers had got their hands on the next great big man, and the Seattle Supersonics were left to pick up Durant.
I don't mean "left" in a disrespectful way. It's just that Oden was preordained a star, while Durant was facing questions as to whether or not his frame would hold up at the NBA level.
Ask the Blazers how they feel about that pick now.
Durant has gone on to become a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate, while Oden's knees have failed him. He's now associated with the phrase "comeback attempt."
Naturally, the Durantula was all smiles on this day, we just didn't realize those "smiles" weren't fated to cease anytime soon.
October 2007-January 2011: Still Smiling
Forgive me for condensing this many years into one section, but we could be here all day reading odes to Durant's nice-guy persona through the first few years of his career.
From his NBA debut on, Durant was revered for his polished demeanor. He was receptive to reporters, embraced the fans (he still does) and just didn't seem like he would hurt a fly on the wall, let alone another person.
I point you toward Yahoo! Sports' Eric Freeman and his description of Durant back in 2011:
As we all learned during the Team USA media onslaught at last summer's world championships, Kevin Durant is the nicest young superstar the league has seen in ages. In addition to scoring tons of points and leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to the postseason, he is courteous to reporters, kind to teammates and generally seems more grounded than other players who get voted to be All-Star starters. You wouldn't mind seeing your son be his friend or your daughter bringing him home.
How often do we say that about an NBA player nowadays?
Strike that, how frequently do we say that about a superstar?
Professional athletes are often viewed as egocentric prima donnas who care more about getting dirt on their new kicks than those around them. Even the ones we consider to be "nice guys" usually have some sort of a mean streak or ego.
He was, by all means, the NBA player next door. Jovial every time we saw him. Humble as they come. Committed to winning, but more dedicated to benevolence and his image.
But would he stay this way?
January 30, 2011: Durant Gets Very Un-Durant
So much for being perpetually serene.
After the game, Durant proceeded to call Bosh out, referring to him as a "fake tough guy" (via Art Garcia of NBA.com):
“I was talking to my teammate and [Bosh] decided he wanted to put his two cents into it,” Durant explained after the 108-103 setback. “I am a quiet guy, laid-back guy, but I’m not going to let nobody talk trash to me. He’s on a good team now so he thinks he can talk a little bit. There are a lot of fake tough guys in this league and he’s one of them.”
Whoa, but Durant wasn’t finished.
“I’m no punk,” he continued. “I wasn’t even talking to him first off. He decided to butt in and I’m not going to just let that slide. Especially in our house. Like I said, he’s not one of those guys I look at and say he has a rep for talking back to guys or getting into it. He’s a nice guy. I’m not going to let that type of person say something to me like that.”
Was this 20-plus years of generalized animosity just spilling out of Durant's mouth, or just a blip on his otherwise unblemished radar?
Perhaps a few years in the Association had hardened Durant a bit. Maybe it was the pressure that comes with squaring off against LeBron James. Perhaps he had forgotten to eat his Wheaties that morning.
Whatever the reason, Durant let loose. We weren't accustomed to him providing potent quotes such as these, so the geophysical balance of the NBA seemed shaken.
Would it ever be the same?
Fear not, because it would.
For a little bit, at least.
June 28, 2012: The Nice Guy Lives On
After falling to the Heat in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals, Durant was understandably crestfallen.
Upon walking off the court, camera's showed him crying, clearly heartbroken over the gut-wreching loss.
Some joked about it, while others needed to grab a box of Kleenex themselves.
This type of devotion to the game is exactly what he had come to represent. It wasn't Russell Westbrook throwing a temper tantrum over one play. It was Durant, pouring his heart out, in teardrops, for the world to see.
If any of us had any doubt as to which way the star forward was headed, it was immediately quelled. And no, I'm not romanticizing any of it.
Those tears were a symbol of Durant's both affable and vulnerable state.
They were evidence that the nice guy continued to live on.
November 21, 2012: The Nice Guy Continues to Breathe
Ladies, pucker up, because an errant Durant pass could be headed your way soon.
In the third quarter of the Thunder's bout against the Los Angeles Clippers in November, Durant accidentally tossed a ball into the stands. It caromed off an old lady's head. Being the chivalrous guy that he is, Durant went to check on said lady to make sure she was alright.
Now exhale, because she was fine. I'd hazard she was even smitten after Durant planted one on her.
Don't worry, this was all very G-Rated stuff. Nothing out of the ordinary from Durant here.
January 2nd, 2013: No More Mr. Nice Guy
This night will go down in history as my birthday...er, I mean the night Durant was ejected from his first game ever.
He had gone more than five seasons without being ejected, but against the Brooklyn Nets, Durant lost it.
On January 2, in a game the Thunder were watching slip out of reach, Durant became his latest victim and was ejected for the first time of his career.
Afterward, Durant painted a picture of a victim who was slighted by an unjust ruling (via Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman):
“I said it was a bad call,” Durant said when asked what he said to get tossed. “They got a quick trigger now on techs.
“I think I'm allowed to be frustrated, especially in this league (that's) full of ups and downs. Players are allowed to be frustrated. It is what it is. (I'll) move on from it.”
To clarify, not only is Durant now suddenly volatile, but he's prone to lying.
As the video shows, he did a lot more than say that was a bad call. He punched the air, dropped what appeared to be some cuss words and untucked his shirt.
Oh, the humanity.
What kind of world do we live in where Durant is getting ejected and not properly dressed?
January 6, 2013: Not-so-Sincere Apologies
In Oklahoma City's 104-92 victory over the Toronto Raptors, Durant picked up his third technical in as many games. And here we were thinking this bad-boy image was a joke.
Following his technical binge, Durant took to Twitter to apologize, but not really.
Kevin Durant @KDTrey5
3 techs in 3 games, not like me...@kendrickperkins is a bad influence on my life lol jk..I will be better, sorry guys1/6/2013, 10:27:19 PM
Go ahead and add subtly sadistic humor to Durant's bad-to-the-bone résumé.
The forward seemed to think it was funny, and let's face Joey Crawford's whistle, it was. Why shouldn't it be?
One day, Durant's writing thank you letters to all his opponents (kidding), and the next, he's hurting referees with his words.
Just imagine what he could do with a pile of sticks and stones.
January 14, 2013: Durant's MeeMaw Knows Something's Up
Just after Durant finished posterizing the bejesus out of Marcin Gortat, his grandmother sent him a text message that he eventually posted on Instagram.
She apparently wasn't happy with all those swear words he had been using and even less happy about her grandson's transgressions being broadcasted on televisions.
Durant chalked it up to him being emotional, and all was forgiven.
Well, at least I imagine it was.
I haven't hacked into, I mean seen Durant post any other texts lately.
February 5, 2013: The 'KD Isn't Nice' Commercial
Forget what you saw in the NBA Finals.
Durant isn't a Mama's boy, he won't give you his jacket if you're feeling chilly and he will only take pennies from "if you have a" tins at the checkout counter.
Because Durant isn't nice...says the folks over at Nike.
In an attempt to prove that he wasn't some cuddly teddy bear, Nike release a commercial starring the man of this column. He was wanted for a "viscious dunking" and took exception to being called "wiry."
Now, the message here is hysterically conveyed, but if Durant and Nike were attempting to truly embrace that spotty mean streak of his, they could have been a bit more candid in his crimes. In fact, I'm pretty sure failing to pay his cable bill would have been a bit more of what they were looking for here.
Still, we needed to understand, Durant isn't "nice."
No matter how "wiry" or cuddly he looks.
February 10, 2013: A Relapse
Well, maybe this wasn't a relapse. He didn't kiss anybody, after all.
While playing against the Phoenix Suns, Durant deflected a pass into the stands, hitting a young woman square in the face.
Don't worry, she didn't lose her cocktail.
Being the rugged bad-boy that he now is, Durant went over and patted her on the head to make sure she was OK. No lip-locking, just a friendly tap.
Though it's splendid that Durant went over to check on her, you would have expected the new and less polished version of him to kiss this one. She might have had her boyfriend by her side, but being the millionaire that he is, he could have scooped her up and showed the world he wasn't such a nice guy.
Alas, he didn't. He apparently only kisses those over 65.
Fellas, consider your girlfriend's safe. Your grandfather's, though, not so much. I'd advise they pick up their significant others from senior swim before Durant's done practicing.
February 14, 2013: No Love for the Heat on Valentine's Day
Durant does not have as good a friend in the referees these days.
Fresh off receiving his 11th technical foul of the season, Oklahoma City's wunderkind went up for a rebound and came down hard. Like really hard. But no whistle was blown.
As he struggled to leave the court, Durant wasn't in any shape to argue. He wasn't in any position to either, having just received a technical previously.
Some Valentine's Day, right?
It seems that Cupid struck Durant with his arrow, and he must've been pissed.
Durant has tried so hard to be what we never thought he would become—angry.
I'm not saying the man we're watching now is an accurate representative of who he truly is, but he's clearly conflicted. He's trying to establish himself as someone with a backbone, but can't completely shed the philanthropic in him.
We're seeing him foul harder, fight calls more and just be more abrupt a person in general. Currently, Durant is tied for second in the NBA with 13 technicals. He had just 12 through his first five seasons.
Yet, he can't seem to distance himself away from the nice guy we have always known him to be. Not entirely.
And so, he's become a blend of overly emotional and, well, nice.
Durant was one of the most likable guys in the league until he up and tried to become a little more Charlie Sheen, and a little less Easter Bunny. Now, after watching his turbulent transformation, we no longer adore him as much.
We idolize him even more.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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