Editor’s Note: Kevin Durant was named NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, after the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Championship on June 12, 2017. Enjoy this inspiring story he wrote for Guideposts when he was playing for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
You wouldn’t know it to look at me. I tower over most people at six-nine, a lean and mean 240 pounds. The size comes in handy in my line of work: I play forward for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
On the court I’ve got my game face on. I’m focused on doing whatever it takes for our team to win—shooting a jumper, slashing to the basket, mixing it up with other big men. But I don’t get too loud or emotional, not even when I take charge of a game.
Off the court, though, it’s a different story. I’m still not loud, but I don’t mind letting my feelings show. Especially my feelings about my greatest coach and biggest inspiration—my mother, Wanda Pratt.
No matter how far my career takes me from our hometown, Seat Pleasant, Maryland, I’ll always be my momma’s boy.
I told you, you wouldn’t guess it looking at me. But it’s true. Mom has been there for me from Day One, when I first picked up a basketball and fell in love with the game, and she’s still there cheering for me from her seat (that’s if she stays in it!) across from the Thunder bench.
The lessons she taught me have made me a better player and, more important, a better person.
1. You Get What You Give.
Mom put my older brother, Tony, and me in sports early to keep us off the streets. We pretty much lived at the rec center. I loved basketball and when I was all of 11 years old, told Mom I wanted to play in the NBA.
She could have laughed. After all, there are fewer NBA players than there are Fortune 500 CEOs. But she didn’t. She wanted Tony and me to know it was worth following the dreams God gave us. She also wanted us to understand that it takes hard work and sacrifice to achieve them.
She showed us that each day. Her dream was to give us every chance to succeed in life. For a single mom that was tough. She needed a good, steady job to support us, but she wanted to be home when we got back from school.
So she worked the overnight shift at the post office, loading 70-pound mailbags onto trucks. She’d leave for work while Tony and I were getting ready for bed. Sometimes I’d see exhaustion in her eyes when she kissed me goodnight. Not that she ever complained.
The biggest thing Mom gave up for us was her time. She didn’t have a social life like other women in their twenties and thirties. She was working when her friends went out. The rest of her time she spent with us—at home, at church, at our practices and games.
Once I asked Mom why she didn’t date or at least go out with her girlfriends. She loved to dance. She’d put on music at home and show off her moves. “God gave me you and your brother,” Mom said. “You guys are my life.”
That made me think. If Mom was giving up everything for us, then I’d better work as hard as I could to make her sacrifice worth it. From then on, I practiced as much as I could.
Long after my teammates left the rec center, I stayed and did drills till my muscles ached. Then it was home, for dinner and homework.
On weekends Mom would get me out of bed late at night. “Time for sit-ups and push-ups.” I’d whine, “Ma, I did my workout already.”
“I know,” she said. “But to get where you want to go, you’ve got to do extra.”
Mom could have been getting some rest herself instead of pushing her boys to be better. Thank the good Lord she kept at it, even when I resisted.
2. Never Say Quit.
The day in freshman year that the basketball coach at my high school told me I made the team, I was flying high. But I was quickly brought down to earth. At our first scrimmage, I broke free near the basket and put my hand up for the ball. I’m open! Our point guard passed to someone else.
Guess he didn’t see me. Next time, I thought. Next time never came. I’d get open, but no one would pass me the ball. I knew what was going on. These guys had been the team leaders and they didn’t want a freshman horning in.
After the scrimmage, I found my mom and told her I didn’t want to play with guys who treated me like I was lower than dirt. “I’m quitting,” I said.
“If you quit,” she said, “they’re never going to pass you the ball.”
I was back on the court the next day. I kept showing up, working hard, and you know what? They passed me the ball.
3. You Gotta Believe.
I didn’t have a positive self-image as a kid. Part of it was my personality. I’m a little shy until I get to know you. But the real problem was my height. By middle school, I was already over six feet. Taller than all my classmates, and most of my teachers. Plus I was super skinny.
When you’re that age, you just want to fit in. And I stood out, literally. My mom had to ask the teachers to let me stay at the back of the line whenever the class went anywhere—even the cafeteria.
That all changed when I started to make a name for myself on the basketball court. I saw that being tall was a blessing. But it didn’t stop me from doubting myself.
Flash forward five years. I’d played one season at the University of Texas and been named national player of the year. The Seattle SuperSonics made me the number two pick in the 2007 NBA draft. The message I took from that was: We’re counting on you. You’re going to carry us to the finals.
My first season we had the second-worst record in the league, even lower than where the team had finished the year before, without me. “It’s on me,” I told my mom. “I was supposed to make the team better.” I felt like I’d let everyone down.
Like always, Mom picked me up. “Give it time,” she said, reminding me of those rough first weeks on my high school team. “Trust yourself and your coaches. Trust your faith. You’ll turn it around.”
She was right. The team moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder in 2008. Two years later we made the playoffs for the first time.
4. Do Your Happy Dance!
Game Four, 2011 NBA Western Conference Semifinals. We were playing Memphis on their home court, down two games to one in a best-of-seven series. Mom was in her usual seat—front row, across from our bench, where I could see her and she could see me.
I wished she couldn’t. I was having a terrible game. My shots just weren’t falling. A loss would put us deep in a hole. I tried to talk myself out of my funk. But I was still beating myself up when we came out for the third quarter. That’s when one of my teammates pointed to the giant video screen.
There was a woman up there, dancing up a storm. Waving her hands in the air, shimmying to the music, the hugest smile on her face. Mom! I knew she had those moves, and she liked to dance during time-outs. But we were losing. How could she be having the time of her life?
I looked at my teammates. They were cracking up. I busted out laughing too. Mom’s happy dance was her way of telling me, Look where you are, Kevin. You’re living your dream. Have fun with it!
The tension melted away. Wouldn’t you know, my shots began to drop. We caught Memphis and then beat them in triple overtime. We went on to win the series and advance to the conference championship.
5. Always Keep Growing.
Last year the Thunder lost to the Miami Heat in the finals. It hurt. I couldn’t hold back my emotions when I hugged Mom after the game. I cried in her arms.
Then I got to thinking. Each year, I grew as a player, we grew as a team, and each year, we got closer to winning it all. Which totally fit with the message of one of Mom’s favorite Bible verses, Romans 8:28: “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.”
I’m keeping that in mind as I work on taking my game to another level, becoming a complete player. And as I work on growing spiritually, walking even closer with the Lord and becoming the person he’s called me to be.
Watch Kevin Durant’s MVP heartwarming and inspiring acceptance speech!
For more inspiring stories, subscribe to Guideposts magazine.