It sucks being late to the party. In the new sports media, everybody is trying to be Babe Ruth calling your shot has become just as important as actually knocking it out of the park. So when you do miss on a can' t-miss star, or you sleep on a slept-on contender, the ensuing game of catch-up can get out of hand.
Perfect example: Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although big things were expected of Durant last season you might recall Dime s Summer Blockbuster cover detailing KD s breakout at Team USA training camp in July 09 the same couldn t be said for his team, which appeared destined for the Lottery. But following a 50-win campaign and a surprise playoff appearance, EVERYBODY jumped on the Thunder bandwagon this summer, and the KD bandwagon also picked up a gang of new passengers. The hype threatened to hit Level Red as we were putting the finishing touches on this issue, when Durant won MVP at the FIBA World Championship and led Team USA to its first Worlds gold medal since Shaq, Reign Man and Reggie led the way in 1994.
And yet, Durant is still under the radar in some ways. In Aron Phillips cover story on the NBAs reigning scoring champ ( Captain America, p. 60), Durant talks about his low public profile. During the World Championship, the visibly low attendance numbers in Turkey and seeming lack of interest stateside hinted that KD is still not quite in that Kobe/ LeBron class as a ticket-selling mainstream celebrity.
Of course, Durant doesn t care. From the first time we ever worked with him when his star was just beginning to shine at Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) high school Durant has been team-first, me-third. The story has been told 100 times about how he respectfully declined to pose for the Dime #32 cover as a University of Texas freshman unless his teammates were in every shot (he got his way). And while we did eventually get KD to appear on two solo covers since he s been in the League, to this day it s still tough to get him to brag on himself.
In an era where athletes almost have to be self-promoters, Durant is old-school. Sure, he is active on Twitter (what 21-year-old isn t?), and he throws dual birthday parties with hip-hop superstar Wale, and he s shot a TV commercial where he s rapping and rocking a throwback Africa chain with Hammer pants, but really, he s about as low-key as it gets. His sole motivation is truly to be the best in the game; forget the fame.
That s why, for now, Durant remains the pro s pro. The industry darling. The J Dilla of the hoop game. Those in the know can t stop talking about how great he is the list of players who gladly sing KD s praises in this issue is a virtual All-NBA ballot while the rest are just starting to catch on.
So you can understand if the late-comers take it overboard. But if you were hoping the hype would settle down once the season begins, well, apologies in advance. Because once the games get going and KD is turning his two-week preview from Turkey into an 82-game main event, you won t be able to get the name out of your head.