Kevin Durant never saw himself being anything less than great in the NBA.
“I just don’t want to be a player in the NBA; I want to have an impact,” Durant said in an April 2007 press conference when he announced his decision to leave Texas after one season and declare for the NBA draft.
On Tuesday, his impact was felt more than ever.
Durant was named the NBA’s 2013-2014 Most Valuable Player award winner Tuesday, earning 119 of a possible 125 first-place votes. For the five-time All-Star, it is the first of his career, and the first ever by a former Texas Longhorn.
“Our entire basketball family is so proud of Kevin and this well-deserved honor,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said on Tuesday. “Knowing Kevin, he will consider this a team award.”
Long before Barnes ever brought Durant to Texas in 2006, the 6-foot-9 small forward was just a kid learning the game in the street courts of Maryland.
A child in a single parent home growing up, Durant spent his childhood bouncing around from apartment to apartment with his brother and mom. Basketball became his outlet, as well as his family’s backbone. It’s this part of his life that stood out in his acceptance speech on Tuesday.
“The odds were stacked against us,” Durant said through tears as he looked to his mom, Wanda, who was in the crowd and had Durant when she was only 21. “Everybody told us we weren’t supposed to be here … when something good happens to you, I tend to look back to what brought me here.”
Durant played for three different high schools as a teenager, including Oak Hill Academy. He transferred to Montrose Christian School for his senior season, where by the conclusion of his time there, was the MVP of the 2006 McDonald’s All American Game. He was widely regarded by many as the second-best high school prospect of 2006, behind Lawrence North’s Greg Oden, and had committed to Texas prior to starting his senior campaign.
In his one season with the Longhorns, Durant had one of the best individual seasons in school history.
He became the first freshman in NCAA history to earn consensus National Player of the Year honors, and remains one of only two freshmen (Anthony Davis in 2012) to ever accomplish such a feat.
That year, Durant led the Big 12 Conference in scoring (25.8 ppg), rebounding (11.1 rpg) and blocked shots (67). He was the only player to rank in the Top 10 nationally in both scoring (fourth) and rebounding (fourth).
But perhaps what he’s most remembered for as a Longhorn are the memories he left at the university seven years ago.
Games like the double overtime contest against Texas A&M, when Durant had 30 points and hit three free throws in the final moments of overtime to give the Longhorns the 98-96 victory.
Most Longhorns fans won’t choose to remember the Durant that led the team to a disappointing second-round loss in the NCAA tournament that year. They’ll choose to remember the Durant that created a magical environment at the Frank Erwin Center. The Durant that would hit impossible three-pointers from the corner and the Durant that would effortlessly slam down alley-oops.
Durant changed Texas basketball, and the program's decision to retire his No. 35 jersey is proof of that. It’s no surprise that he’s had just as much success at the pro level as he did in college.
This season in the NBA, Durant, a four-time All NBA First Team player, averaged an NBA-best 32 points and 7.4 rebounds per game during the regular season. He won his fourth scoring title in five years, something only Michael Jordan, George Gervin and Wilt Chamberlain have done before. He also became the first player since Allen Iverson in 2000 to win both the MVP and scoring title in the same year.
Durant led the Thunder to a 59-23 record this season, the second best in the league, and has his team in the second round of the playoffs after a 33-point showing in game seven against the Memphis Grizzles to end the first round.
“Basketball is just a platform for me to inspire people.” Durant said at Tuesday's award ceremony. “I play first off because I love it. As a second-grader, I had a Grant Hill jersey. That’s the first time I walked into a gym. And that’s where I fell in love with the game.”
That love has propelled Durant to places he even acknowledges he wasn’t supposed to have reached as a poor child in Maryland: high school prominence, the Texas Longhorns, the NBA and now, the most valuable player in the best basketball league in the world.