Basketball: Prolific Kevin Durant out to prove that good guys can be winners, too

“I’ve been second all my life. I’m tired of being second. I am done with it”

Once, as he was breaking through to becoming Brazil’s greatest striker, Ronaldo was asked to film an advert. He was playing for PSV Eindhoven and he was required to juggle a ball in the surf on the Dutch North Sea coast, which was standing in for the Copacabana.

There was one take, then another and then another. Eventually, Ronaldo broke down in tears. He could not do it in front of the cameras.

The hardest thing Kevin Durant said he has ever had to do is deliberately miss baskets during the making of Thunderstruck. The film is a role-reversal caper in which a wimpy kid, who couldn’t slam dunk if his pet rabbit’s life depended on it, is given the ability of his hero, one Kevin Durant, who in turn suddenly finds himself unable to dunk or even slam.

Scoring, when it matters, has seldom been a problem. Last season Durant’s average of 27 points a game was the principal reason for Oklahoma’s run to the Western Conference final.

Those who have followed his career from its early flowerings in Maryland argue that he remains the same boy who insisted he would always wear the No 35 shirt in memory of his Amateur Athletic Union coach, Charles Craig, murdered at 35. He never refers to himself in the third person.

One of his sponsors, Footlocker, ran a campaign promoting him as “the nicest guy in the NBA”. The $1m donated to the American Red Cross to help alleviate the ravages of the hurricane that killed or injured 400 in the small town of Moore, Oklahoma, suggests this may not be mere advertising flannel.

Asked why Durant was chosen to play someone who suddenly finds himself unable to hit a barn door at 20 paces, Thunderstruck’s director, John Whitesell, replied: “When a guy goes over and hugs his mom [Wanda] after a game, that’s a guy people are going to like. If LeBron James can’t shoot, I don’t care but if Kevin can’t shoot, then I’m going to feel sad.”

The rivalry with LeBron James is a significant part of what motivates Durant.

James’ decision to quit Cleveland for Miami Heat for what, even by NBA standards, was an enormous salary earned him derision and vilification in equal measure. And yet when Durant and James met in the NBA finals, it was James and Miami Heat who won.

Durant studies James’ game intently: “If he has 30 points with nine rebounds and eight assists I can tell you exactly how he did it”.

In an intense interview with Sports Illustrated earlier this year, Durant said: “I have been second all my life. I was the second-best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft. I have been second in the Most Valuable Player Award three times. I came second in the finals. I am tired of being second. I am done with it.”

Oklahoma City Thunder face the Philadelphia 76ers at the Phones 4u Arena in Manchester as part of NBA Global Games Manchester 2013. Tickets available at eventim.co.uk

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