A Conversation with Kevin Durant

A Conversation With Kevin Durant

Back on campus to for an event with the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation and to receive the Outstanding Young Texas Ex Award, the former Longhorn basketball star reflects on why he came to UT, what he thinks of Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the national anthem, and what he wants his legacy to be.

Daron Roberts, BA ’01, Life Member, directs the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation.

Daron Roberts: In your 2014 NBA MVP acceptance speech, you said your mother was the real MVP. That speech went viral. Talk about the kind of influence she had on your life.

Kevin Durant: She taught me a lot by just her actions. As a kid I was really quiet and observant. I would watch her wake up at 5 in the morning, get me and my brother ready for our day, then she would go to work, work all day, then pick us up at night. It was just a cycle every single day. She was putting in work. That’s what I stand on—putting in work, whatever I do. I feel like I can be anything in the world because of how hard I work. And I learned that from her.

DR: At what point did you figure out that you were pretty good?

KD: It took me a while to really figure it out. I just loved to run up and down the court with friends. What brought me back every day is that I could learn something new. I fell in love with the process, as a kid, pretty early. I started to get better, and I wanted more and more. So probably by the time I was 10 years old, I knew, all right, this is what I want to be for the rest of my life.

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DR: We were able to get a kid out of Maryland to Austin, Texas. How did that happen?

KD: I’ll give you the whole story. I had 20 offers on the table. I visited UConn, North Carolina, and Texas was kind of like I would visit them just because I had a relationship with Coach [Rick Barnes], who was from the same area, so I was going to do him a favor. I was going to North Carolina, and I told my mom that’s where I want to go. She said, “You promised to visit Texas, and you got to stick to your word.” And I did. By the time the weekend was over, I was telling my mom and dad, “This is where I want to go.”

DR: So what was it? Breakfast tacos? You had your pick. What was so special about the Forty Acres?

KD: I was a teenager who went off of energy, vibes. I felt the energy when I came here. I wanted to go to [North] Carolina so bad because of the tradition and my friends went there. My mom just told me, “It’s time to set your own path. It’s time to veer off and get away.” My family couldn’t drive to Texas, so I was out here by myself. I was looking forward to that. I wanted a challenge, and I dived into this challenge here. It was the best decision that I’ve made in my life thus far. I still reminisce of times walking the Forty Acres as a 17, 18-year old. It was a tremendous time in my life. I’m grateful to be a part of this community.

DR: Looking back on that time now, as an NBA vet, how would you coach yourself up as a freshman? What are some things when you look back that you think, ‘I wish I had known that at the time?’

KD: I don’t think I would change anything. It was just pure love for the game, pure love for my teammates. I didn’t know anything else that went on outside of basketball, but in between those lines. To this day, there’s a lot going on around me and the game of basketball. But I still try to go back to my 18-year-old self and have that same mindset and approach to the game. I wouldn’t regret or change anything that I did. If anything, I’m trying to rekindle a couple of those feelings I had as an 18-year-old here and put them into my 27-year-old body now.

DR: That is one of the compliments people always say about you—you’re genuine. What have been the major challenges you’ve faced as a global superstar, and how have you been able to maintain that genuine piece of your character?

I’m still learning who I am as a man at this age. My whole life up until about a year ago I thought my purpose was solely to be a basketball player. I feel like I’m in a great spot in my life because I woke up from that. I’m still learning and figuring out what I love to do.

KD: I’m not a saint. I don’t mind my dirt. But I’m still learning who I am as a man at this age. My whole life up until about a year ago I thought my purpose was solely to be a basketball player. I feel like I’m in a great spot in my life because I woke up from that. I’m still learning and figuring out what I love to do. It’s always a natural progression, and I’m always trying to find out what’s the next thing. As far as being genuine, as far as being nice to people—that’s something I always try to stand by and stand on those core values I was raised with. At the same time, I know that I’m not perfect and there’s going to be times when I’m not that nice person everybody thinks I am. I’m trying to find a balance.

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DR: Talk about the photography. You had credentials for the Super Bowl, on the sideline. You took some great shots. How did you find this passion for photography?

KD: Another thing where I woke up from wanting to be just a basketball player. Photography is one of the things that kept me at ease with this crazy life I’m living. A picture is so perfect because it captures one single moment. That’s something you can always go back to and reminisce on. Taking pictures is one thing that kept me calm and relaxed and sane. I wanted to use that opportunity to keep growing mentally and keep staying in the moment. The Super Bowl was a bucket list for me. To experience that was something I’ll never forget.

DR: You’re known in league circles as a man who’s been able to manage his finances well. Here at the University of Texas we have a class all of our freshmen athletes take, and part of that class deals with financial literacy. What was the starting point for you when you realized, ‘I’m going to set up generational wealth and home in on the money that I get from endorsements and salaries’?

KD: At first it was all about the game of basketball, and I had people that handled [the money] for me. As I got older I wanted to know where my money was going. How much is coming in? How am I giving it out to people? How am I spending? And also, how am I saving? I want to enjoy what I have, but at the same time, I want this to last for my kids and their kids and their kids. I’m trying to build something for a legacy. When I’m gone, that’s something I can pass on.

DR: Coach up a professional athlete on how to say no.

KD: It’s the hardest thing to do.

DR: How do you pick? How do you say no to people?

You care about people and you want to see them do well. But at the same time, you want to put them in a position to be successful for themselves instead of just giving handouts. Once I started to realize that, ‘no’ became easier for me.

KD: It’s tough, man. I’m still battling with that. You care about people and you want to see them do well. But at the same time, you want to put them in a position to be successful for themselves instead of just giving handouts. That’s going to stunt their growth. Once I started to realize that, ‘no’ became easier for me. I still look out for friends and family. But you got to pay me back.

DR: With interest?

KD: No. I won’t go with interest, but you got to pay me back. That’s what happens in the normal world. We tend to look at these figures and treat them differently, but I want to live my life as normal as possible. That’s what makes it easier to go through. I try to treat people as normal as I can, but also knowing that I have the opportunity to help someone, and I try to do that.

DR: Colin Kaepernick has been in the news, and the debate [is] about what role should athletes play in social activism. What do you think is the proper role for athletes to play in social issues?

KD: I’m behind anyone who stands up for what they believe in. Colin Kaepernick is standing up for what he believes, and that’s what makes our country so great, right? We get that luxury to do so. He’s unapologetic about it. In his defense, I don’t think he’s trying to disrespect anyone. But he’s also trying to get his point across. I’m all for anybody who wants to do that. As athletes we have issues, platforms, and a lot of people are watching at all times. Sometimes what you do may not be what everybody likes. But if you feel it’s going to be impactful, then that’s on you. I feel like everyone should stand up for what they really believe in.

DR: At a time when a lot of athletes are deciding there’s too much risk in playing and representing the country, it’s always seemed to be an easy choice for you. What did it mean for you to represent the USA in Rio this year?

KD: It meant a lot. To represent your country and where you come from against the rest of the world is an amazing honor. To have USA across your chest as you’re competing with some of the best players and against some of the best players in the world is a feeling that I can’t really describe. It’s just an electric feeling you have when you run out there knowing that you’re playing not just for yourself but for everybody in the country. It makes basketball more fun and competing more fun. For teammates, the camaraderie, it shines to another level when you play for your country.

DR: Fast-forward past your professional career. Who will Kevin Durant be without the game of basketball?

KD: I can’t tell you what it will look like. I’ll still spread love. I think that’s what this world needs—a bit of love. Spread as much love and support to our youth, because they’re the future. Whether it’s meeting a kid as I walk out of the gym or charity work like I do, it’s about impacting someone’s life and letting them know that I love them and I support them. My interests, and what I’m going to do, and all that stuff, I’m sure that will form as I get older and as I get toward the end of my career. But I want to show love, love, love. By the time I’m done playing, I want people to see me as a guy that’s just super happy and you get a good vibe when you’re around me.

DR: Kids who look up to you, who have your poster on the wall—what would you say to them who want to play professionally?

KD: Surround yourself with people who will elevate you. Iron sharpens iron. I need people to help me grow, and I need to elevate people as well. I feel as though kids that look up to me, they see progression. They see that it’s not all effort. There’s going to be ups and downs. It’s not what you do great. It’s how you fail and get up that determines who you are. It’s going to be 10, 11 times in a row you’re going to fall. Keep getting up, keep fighting, keep believing. That sounds cliche, but it really is true. I want people to see that when they see me. That I never gave up, never let anybody steal my joy. I’m still learning that.

DR: Talk about the decision to head west. Obviously we’re in Austin, Texas. There’s a certain professional team a little bit to the south of us.

KD: Great team.

DR: Can you talk about your decision [to join the Golden State Warriors] and how you made it?

KD: It was different for me to have an opportunity to pick where you want to play, where you want to live, where you want to do life for the next part of my career. It took a lot of thinking, a lot of talking with people that know me and care about me. It was difficult to leave [Oklahoma City], because I’m leaving behind so many people that I’ve gotten to know for so long and have relationships with. I wanted to challenge myself and take this thing on. I knew it was going to be difficult, and there was going to be backlash, and it pains me. But this is something I wanted to do. I felt great about it. It’s been a crazy summer. It’s going to be something I look back on as I shift in my life. I’m excited to start this new chapter here with a new team.

DR: Got your place decorated? Are you all set up?

KD: Close. I’m looking forward to a home. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for three or four months now.

DR: Will we see you at the Cal game?

KD: Yeah, I’ll try to get out to that game in my burnt orange on the sideline.

DR: Speaking of football, we won a small game, pretty insignificant, last week. But you’ve played a little football in your past. We have a clip from back in 2011…

DR: As a former football coach, a little too much arc, but that’s OK. I think we’re pretty good at the quarterback position here at Texas. But I’m sure Coach Strong could probably find some room for you.

KD: Yeah, I’m ready.

DR: Talk about this story. You literally just tweeted out, ‘Hey, I’m ready to play some football.’ And a guy said, OK, we’re playing. They thought it was a hoax. And then you showed up.

KD: That’s just how I am. It was during the lockout, so I was just really bored at home. Football season was just starting, and I felt the urge, a little jolt of energy to play football that day. I tweeted it out, and guys were ready to play. I was amazed there were so many people there. It was at OSU, so I didn’t know if they would accept me on the field or not.

DR: Different shade of orange, but they were fine with it.

KD: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it—I should have worn my burnt-orange Texas jersey that I had. Would have a been a nice slap in the face there.

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DR: What do you want your legacy to be?

KD: I just want to be a guy who, as a basketball player, you look at and see he enjoyed the game, worked extremely hard, and had fun playing. It’s pretty simple to me. As a man, he had values and impacted people’s lives, no matter who it was. I’ll be fine with that.

DR: Your foundation, If You Build It They Will Ball, changes communities by rebuilding basketball courts. What have you seen that work do in the community?

KD: It’s bringing people together. If we rely on each other, we can go far. More than we could do individually.

DR: Kobe Bryant said the biggest regret of his career was that he didn’t show more vulnerability as a rookie. You have never had a problem being honest and saying, ‘This is who I am.’ Do you think that has helped you? Looking back, have you allowed people to see too much or just the right amount?

KD: The right amount at the right times. I’ve given people me, good or bad. You’ve seen me when I wasn’t having such a good day, and when I was really excited and passionate about something.

DR: This year, you are one of the recipients of the Outstanding Young Texas Ex Award, so congratulations. What does that award mean to you?

KD: It means a lot to represent this place and these people who I feel so passionate about. For them to recognize me, it just means the world. I’m so glad to be a part of this community. Everywhere I go I see Longhorns, and we just link up. It’s something I really take pride in, and I appreciate all the love and support.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Photos by Emily Johnson.

 

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