The day he got locked out, the best scorer in the world played knockout with middle schoolers. He even let them win a few games, too.
Oklahoma City Thunder star and former Longhorn Kevin Durant finished up his summer camp circuit Saturday at local Westlake High School, where he interacted with 350 campers, ages 7-18, despite the storm cloud that’s hanging over the NBA.
“When I was young I wanted to come around and interact with NBA players, and I didn’t get to do that,” Durant said. “So I wanted to do that for the younger kids. It’s been successful and hopefully next year it gets bigger.”
“It’s such a great thing to do,” Kabongo said. “He’s such a down-to-earth guy.”
The inaugural, two-day Austin camp was just another stop in what has been a busy summer. In May, Durant led the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals. He hosted camps Wednesday and Thursday in Oklahoma City and next week he will go to China for a promotional tour with Nike. On Friday at 12:01 a.m., the first NBA lockout since 1998 officially began.
Through all the drills, games, photographs and motivational speeches, Durant kept a grin on his face despite the fact that his next season will be on indefinite hold. With the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, NBA owners and the National Basketball Players Association are at odds and determined to not sign off on any new agreements until each side has their way. Local media weren’t the only ones asking how he felt about having his job on hold.
“Some little kid asked me about the lockout, I didn’t think that was coming,” he said. “That shows how much kids watch and respect the game. I know when I was that age, I wouldn’t have even known what a lockout was.”
“I told him that we’ll be playing games at the regularly scheduled time, and he understood.”
He remains wholly optimistic, admitting that he is a bit worried but positive that the two sides can come to an agreement, and he is determined to stay in game shape even if he doesn’t play another game until January.
“I’m always motivated to be a better player,” Durant said. “There’s so many great players in this league that if you slack off for even a few weeks, somebody can catch up. It’s easy for me to work on my game — it’s second nature.”
Durant — who Texas head coach Rick Barnes calls a “once-in-a-lifetime guy” — also wears the hat of the Thunder’s representative to the National Basketball Players Association, and says players will not back down.
“The owners are staying together, but the players are too and there are more players in the league,” he said.
He could be facing a summer and a fall without a paycheck — all bets are he’ll be OK nonetheless — but his camp made sure families didn’t have to break the bank. Total costs were $200, which is about $500 less than camps hosted by other NBA stars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James — and, unlike James, Durant made sure not to bowl over any kids during knockout. Members of the Boys & Girls Club of Austin were given scholarships, and everybody made off with some pretty cool SWAG — a camp T-shirt and a Durant-autographed team photo.
“I just want kids to have fun, I’m not worried about the price,” he said. “I just want to show them how much I love the game.”
A camper in the OKC camp even returned the favor, bluntly offering the two-time scoring champ some pointers.
“The kid was like, ‘I really don’t like you, I really don’t like your game,’” Durant said, laughing. “He said that I could post up a little more and that I could work on my jump shot. Actually, I took it all to heart.”
No such criticism was heard in Austin, though some campers were delighted to beat Durant in knockout and other shooting drills.
“The kids do a great job of hitting shots under pressure,” he said. “Once it’s my turn, I start to sweat a little bit, and I missed some shots to lose the game. But it’s all in good fun.”
It took a little bit longer to get over a previous defeat, the Thunder’s loss to eventual-champion Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals.
“I was upset for a while, it hurt,” said Durant, who averaged 28.6 points a game in the postseason. “We had a chance to be at the top of the mountain. But sometimes we gotta go through those tough times to get where we want to be.”
The last session of Friday’s camp hadn’t been over for 15 minutes, and Durant was nowhere to be found. He wasn’t eating pizza in the lounge. He wasn’t in escort back to his hotel. He wasn’t running away from swarms of autograph-seeking kids.
He was instead spotted at the nearby track, doing conditioning drills in the 100-degree heat.
“No matter when or where, Kevin gets some work in whenever he can,” said Charlie Bell, like a brother to Durant and a member of his traveling posse. “He pushes himself everyday, even at camp.”