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"I do this."
That's what he said. That's all he wanted to say. That's all he needed to say about this week's streetball appearances in New York.
"I do this."
Someone at the New York Post picked up the quote at Rucker Park on Monday night. When ESPN.com submitted a request to Kevin Durant's reps a few days later to talk to Durant about this week in his life, the response was this: "He doesn't want to talk about it. He doesn't want any publicity. He just wants to ball."
"Do this" is more than just dropping 66 points Monday in what instantly became a legendary game at Rucker Park, or following that up with a 41-point performance the next day at Baruch College in a Nike Pro City game. Or following that up by scoring 29 points in a loss to a Michael Beasley-led team in Washington Heights at Dyckman Park two nights later. That game, unfortunately, made the news because of a shoving incident between Beasley and a fan.
|On his way to 41 points at Baruch College on Tuesday night, Kevin Durant (No. 35) wowed a NYC crowd.|
"Do this" is more than just creating a mini-Durantapolooza Tour around NYC; is more than shutting up hecklers who were calling him "Baby LeBron" or chanting "Russell Westbrook" (his teammate in the/his real world) at him as he dropped 3s like J-Lo drops husbands; is more than having the Harlem crowd storm the court to surround him after he gave the people a show reminiscent of Joe Hammond, Fly Williams and Charlie Scott.
"Do this" -- for Durant -- has become something more than all that. More to us, at least; maybe the same to him. "Do this" -- to the man who referred to himself in a recent SI.com interview as a "basketball fanatic," the kid who has led the NBA in scoring the past two seasons, the player who almost singularly won the U.S. the gold medal during last summer's FIBA World Championship -- means one thing: He balls.
Lockout or not, Durant would be doing this. Collective bargaining agreement or not, contract or not, insured or not ... he'd be doing exactly this.
Showing up on public basketball courts all over the country, concrete or wood, taking on challengers, next-ups and haters, being in love with the game that happens to be his profession and showing how love of the game is supposed to look.
"KD is a basketball player in the truest sense," his agent, Eric Goodwin, said when asked about his client's recent basketball excursion through NYC. "He is the epitome of a gym rat and is always looking to improve his game by testing it against the best around. Lockout or no lockout."
This summer, he's already done L.A. (Drew League), already gone home to D.C. (Goodman League) and is on his way to Houston to participate in a camp run by teammate Kendrick Perkins, where it is already known that he will -- as Goodwin says -- "Call around and ask, 'You guys ballin'? I'll be there.'"
Kevin just likes to play ball. It's good for him. It shows how much he loves the game. He doesn't have to do this, though. Most players on that level -- LeBron, D-Wade, Kobe -- don't need to go out there because those players playing against them are going to go at them differently.” -- Former NBA great Gary Payton
Pampered superstars are not supposed to go like this. Overseas is supposedly a better, smarter, safer look than this. What Durant is doing is the equivalent of slummin', Robin Hoodin'. Play for free? Play despite fear or threat of injury? Play jeopardizing a multimillion-dollar contract?
Ask anyone (friends, family, teammates, players around the League) and they'll tell you: That's just who KD is.
But let's not get it contorted. There is great benefit in this for Durant.
See, basketball is the only major professional sport that will allow a player to take advantage of the offseason this way. Because basketball has no offseason. Like a vintage pager, it goes two ways. At the professional level, it is a game played in the winter but perfected in the summer.
And even as an American NBA superstar (the following rule doesn't necessarily apply to players from other countries), arguably one of the five best in the League, there will remain a void in your résumé unless you've done damage -- real damage, legendary damage like rolling through NYC damn near averaging 50 points -- in organized league or pick-up games. A legacy incomplete.
"Kevin just likes to play ball," future Hall of Famer Gary Payton says of Durant. "It's good for him. It shows how much he loves the game. He doesn't have to do this, though. Most players on that level -- LeBron, D-Wade, Kobe -- don't need to go out there because those players playing against them are going to go at them differently. But [Durant] is young. He'a a kid. Which all goes to show how much he really loves the game."
Durant, knowing the four dimensions of the game (high school, college, pro, streets), understands/understood, despite the truth that Payton speaks, that he needed to add a run like this to his bio. It legitimizes him. Same way it did every other NBA player from Allen Iverson to Kobe Bryant who "slummed" just to get a rep.
But with the state of the NBA being what it is, with star players such as Bryant and Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams (the only one so far who has a deal in place with a team overseas) mentioning foreign-market hoops as an option, Durant keeping it so real is so necessary for the game.
Like a breath of fresh heir.
The rest rests in the game's uniqueness.
|Durant isn't shy about letting the Twitter world know how he feels about streetball in New York.|
An NFL player who has two rushing titles or two sack titles or has started in the last two Pro Bowls wouldn't do something like this ... excuse me, couldn't do something like this. There are no "pick-up" games like this on football fields across the country, no places to play where Adrian Peterson or DeMarcus Ware could show up and pad their careers in such a way that fans who can't afford to see them play in person during the NFL season would gain another level of appreciation for them.
Robinson Cano or Jose Bautista might go to the Dominican Winter League or Venezuelan Winter League during MLB's offseason if their big league clubs want them to work on a specific skill. But they don't go there to prove to other players and themselves that they are ready to ball at any time or any place. And conquer.
A golfer on the PGA Tour doesn't go to a public course to challenge the local legends. An NHL player doesn't go to a rink in Quebec or Montreal in the summer just to get his skate on against local competition. Andre Ward, WBA super middleweight champion, might go to Kronk in Detroit or Gleason's in Brooklyn to spar or train, but not to take on all comers.
Basketball, though, lends itself to just what KD is doing. It allows million-dollar players to return to their roots, where a million dollars means nothing. For personal reasons, Durant has taken this non-USA Basketball, non-NBA, non-Oklahoma City Thunder offseason to validate his rep on the block. Where chains hang from rims and sneakers hang from telephone wires.
He's forcing all of us to watch him ascend to the throne.
He does this.
And although he's not the only one (LeBron James has made his way to the Drew League this summer), Durant is the only player at this "Who Gon Stop Me" elite level doing what could be considered tantamount to James Franco going back to act on "General Hospital."
Durant has what we call the "Up North" philosophy of the game. A philosophy owned by former NY streetball legend Seth "Up North" Marshall. "God blessed me with talent," Marshall used to say. "But it's not mine to keep. It belongs to these parks." A philosophy often lost when a silhouette of Jerry West starts appearing on your checks.
"He just wants to ball," as his agent says.
Which says it all. Just like those three words: "I do this."
Which is, right now, exactly what the game needs.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.
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