Basketball: Thunder's Durant is on a roll
After making his name in Oklahoma the young ace is now shooting for the Stars
Sunday 14 February 2010
Unfortunately, most people know Oklahoma City for one thing – the bombing in 1995 which was the worst terror attack in the US until the Twin Towers came down on 9/11. But a movement is under way to change perceptions about America's 31st biggest city and it is being led by a basketball star called Kevin Durant.
Tonight that transition takes another step forward when the 21-year-old takes to the court at Cowboys Stadium to play his maiden NBA All-Star Game. He is the Oklahoma City Thunder's first representative at the annual jamboree and a record crowd will be on hand to see one of the League's most exciting talents.
Over 90,000 fans are expected, which will make it the biggest attendance for a basketball game. "I've only played in front of 18 or 19,000 so far," Durant tells me. "I can't wait for that experience and I know I'm going to have a lot of butterflies. It means a lot to make my first All-Star game. It's truly a blessing. It's something I've been dreaming about and watching for a long time."
Durant's recognition comes in the midst of a fantastic run of scoring. The former University of Texas swingman, who in 2007 was the first freshman to be named the AP Player of the Year, has racked up 25 points or more in 25 straight games. Only two men have bettered the feat in the last 30 years: Allen Iverson with 27 in a row nine years ago and the legendary Michael Jordan with 40 in the 1986-87 season.
Such shooting prowess has Durant lying second in scoring this season with 29.7 per game, 0.2 behind the points machine that is last year's Most Valuable Player, LeBron James, and ahead of such luminaries as Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. The 2007-08 Rookie of the Year is modest about his achievement. "I am surprised by what I've done this season. It's different though, Kobe got hurt – he then plays a couple of games and his scoring dipped."
Like Jordan and James, Durant has combined prolific scoring with a penchant for doing the dirty work that is necessary for success, such as rebounding the ball. "It's a big part of my game," says the 6ft 9in player with the 7ft 5in wing span which comes in handy when making steals or rising to majestically block a shot.
The skills of the No 2 overall pick in the 2007 draft have inspired the Thunder to 30 wins so far in 2009-10 – seven more than last year's total – with 33 regular season games to go. Barring a collapse, a first play-off berth for the franchise looks inevitable after its move from Seattle. "Oklahoma City's never had a permanent pro team and we've only been here for two years so a lot of people don't know about us. But people will start to find out," Durant said.
While blazing a trail on the court, Durant's life has been tinged by tragedy off it. He wears the number 35 for Charles Craig, who was murdered five years ago. "He was my first coach, a guy that pushed me and wanted me to get to my highest peak. For that to be taken away was a shock, someone I thought would never die. That was just hard for him to go, God calling him in. So I honour him every time I step on the court by wearing No 35 – for the number of years he was on this earth."
Durant will be out to make his mentor proud and even the fans in the nose-bleed seats will be able to appreciate his skills on the 160ft by 72ft HD video board, which is Cowboys Stadium's signature. Tonight is another rung on the ladder to putting Oklahoma City in the picture for the right reasons.
Watch the NBA All-Star game live on ESPN from midnight tonight. For information visit www.espn.co.uk
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