Moving Speech From An MVP
By Randy Renner
By now surely all of you Thunder basketball fans know who Wanda Pratt is and if for some reason you don't I'll give you a clue, she's the mother of the NBA's newly minted MVP.
Some just refer to her simply as "Mama Durant."
When I looked out at the folks gathered at the Thunder Community Events Center for the official announcement of one of the worst kept secrets in Oklahoma City, I saw a box of Kleenex under Mrs. Pratt's chair.
Too bad everyone didn't have some.
Tears flowed early and often during Kevin Durant's speech accepting the NBA's highest individual award.
During an amazing 25 minutes we saw a rare emotional insight into what drives a superstar and we also saw for all the tough talk and bravado we see from many big time athletes and from Durant at times too, we got a look at some of the self-doubts and some of the uncertainties and what happens when you lie awake at night wondering why your shot's not falling.
I found out something I didn't know about the man we call KD. I found out he wanted to be a coach, and no not a big time NBA boss man.
"We moved so many places growin up it felt like a box, like there was no getting out," he said of his youth in Maryland's Prince George's County. "My dream was to become a rec league coach, that’s what I wanted to do I wanted to stay home and help the kids out by bein a coach."
He wanted to coach them because he loved basketball but figured he'd never be able to be good enough to play the game at a high level.
"So many people believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, so many people doubted me and motivated me every single day to be who I am," he said. "I fell so many times and got back up, Ive been through the toughest times with my family, but Im still standing."
As he was saying that last sentence he started to choke up and the tears started to come. It would be the first of many, many times as he recounted his early days and then talked about his current teammates singling each one out for a special moment.
It wasn't just, 'I wanna thank my teammates, my coaches and the fans,' it wasn't that at all. Durant told us what we'd never known before.
The inspiration he'd gotten from all his teammates when things were going badly, when the shots weren't falling and the wins weren't coming as often as they were supposed to.
He praised each and every one and the tears kept coming on the stage and out in the audience.
He saved the words for Russell Westbrook for last among the players.
"I could speak all night about Russell, an emotional guy who would run through a wall for me. There’s days when I wanna just tackle you and tell you to snap out of it," Durant admitted, "and I know there’s days when you wanna do the same thing with me."
Then KD made it clear how he feels about his lightning rod of a teammate.
"I love you man, I love you. A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player and Im the first to have your back man through it all. Just stay the person you are. Everybody loves you here, I love you and I thank you so much, you made me better with your work ethic, it’s a blessing to play with you you’re an MVP caliber player."
And yes, even Russ shed a couple of tears.
Durant praised Thunder chairman Clay Bennett for "always being there when I needed anything." And that seeing Bennett at the games gives him confidence. He lauded GM Sam Presti for his late night phone calls and texts during good times and bad and for putting together a great team.
And he went to bat for his head coach who tends to take a beating at times in the media.
"Scott Brooks you mean the world to me, you as a man, I never met anybody like you, so selfless, you never take the credit for nothing, even though you deserve all of it. I love you and your family for always takin me in, callin me, textin me late at night when I was goin crazy, thank you."
And he had some love to give the fans of Oklahoma City.
"I cant say enough about you guys, all the support you give our team, the home court advantage that we have is the best Ive ever seen, we disappoint you guys sometimes, but we try our best, every single night to win for you guys and we wanna win a championship for you guys. The city all they want us to be is ourselves, you love us how we are, we’re all a work in progress as men and you still love us and I thank you so much for embracing us."
He talked about how things around here tend to push as all down sometimes. Whether it's the deadly tornadoes that spin down from the sky or tough times in general but people here he said just keep getting back up. "You get knocked down but you keep getting back up, keep fighting, it's the perfect place for me. The grass isn't always greener somewhere else."
Whether that was an indication that Durant has no intention of leaving the Thunder in free agency, who ,but that brought some tears of joy from a lot of fans and probably a few raised eye brows from national reporters and pundits when tend to believe Durant can't wait to skip town.
He closed his speech, one of the most emotional and heart-felt I've ever heard by singling out his mother and appropriately enough Mother's Day is coming up on Sunday.
But today for Wanda Pratt, Kleenexes at the ready, her son gave her an early present splashed with tears of thanks.
"We wasn't supposed to be here but you made us believe," KD said, tears free flowing now as he recalled the tough times, looking at his mom from the stage a few feet away.
"You kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs and food on the table. You didn’t eat but you made sure we ate, you went to sleep hungry, you sacrificed for us, you’re the real MVP."
So for now let's put aside the talk about why the Thunder couldn't seem to play defense like they were supposed to in Game 1 against the Clippers and how they let Chris Paul free for all those threes.
For now let's consider that Oklahoma City, not even on the NBA map, not even a glint in former commissioner David Stern's eye a few short years ago, is now home to the Most Valuable Player in the NBA.
A man who comes from a hard scrabble beginning and has reached the top of the mountain in his profession but continues to strive to be better.
For now let's be thankful for Wanda Pratt and her little boy Kevin who has grown into a man only she thought he could be.