WASHINGTON, D.C. – NBA star forward Kevin Durant said the other day he’s found a new home in Oklahoma City where he plays for the Thunder but it doesn’t mean turning his back on where he came from. On his newly launched Nike signature shoe KD VI, he made it a point to acknowledge his roots by inscribing “Seat Pleasant’s Finest” at the tip of the shoe and “Big Chucky” in memory of his late Amateur Athletic Union coach Charles Craig at the heel.
Durant was born and raised in Seat Pleasant, a small city in Maryland, only a 20-minute drive away from downtown Washington, D. C. Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant said the “city of excellence” is part of what is called Metro D. C. Although he’s from the East Coast, Durant enrolled at the University of Texas for a year before turning pro in 2007. Durant played at Seattle then wound up at Oklahoma City.
If he weren’t playing for the Thunder, Durant said he would prefer to play for the Washington Wizards. “I’m not suggesting it will happen someday,” he said. “I’m happy at Oklahoma City but it would be cool playing before friends and family in D. C. Right now, I love Oklahoma City, my new home.”
When a tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, last May, Durant responded quickly to show support to the surviving families of 23 who were killed. There were also 377 injured. He pledged $1 Million to the American Red Cross. Nike and the Thunder matched his donation. “I wanted to give back, to let them know I care,” said Durant. “The idea is to get the people who lost their homes back on their feet, to give them hope. I went around the area where the tornado struck after the season and I saw people’s homes gone. I had to do something. Houses were completely destroyed but the homeless families were still smiling. When I moved from Seattle to Oklahoma, it automatically felt like home once I got there.”
Durant, 24, said growing up, he enjoyed watching stars like Kobe Bryant perform and now that he’s in the league, it’s surreal to play against his hardcourt heroes. He mentioned LeBron James and his close friend Carmelo Anthony as among those whom he idolizes. Durant recalled that it wasn’t smooth sailing when he first learned to play. “I’m grateful for the journey,” he said. “If it weren’t for my mom, my grandma and my early coaches, I wouldn’t be what I am today. They molded me. I used to fall on the concrete and hit the pole but that’s what I went through, it’s part of growing up. My hometown made me who I am today.”
Durant was 16 when Craig was killed by a single gunshot wound to the back while trying to break up a street fight. From that point on, Durant vowed to always wear No. 35 in Craig’s memory. Craig was 35 when he was murdered.
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Now a six-year pro, Durant is in the middle of an $86 Million contract with the Thunder. Last season, he hit career-highs of 51 percent from the field and 90.5 percent from the line. Durant also shot 41.6 percent from three-point distance to join the exclusive 50-40-90 NBA club. He scored a career-high 52 points in a 117-114 Thunder win over Dallas last January. The eruption was punctuated by flawless shooting from the stripe, 21-of-21, and 5-of-9 triples.
The KD VI was developed over an 18-month period with Nike shoe designer Leo Chang detailing the model with insight from Durant. “On this shoe, Kevin specifically asked to go with a low top,” said Chang. “He plays in a lot of different heights and is very comfortable when we try something new. With the KD V, we went back to a midcut, a specific request from him and introduced the Max Air unit in the heel. For the KD VI, Kevin specifically said, ‘I wanna keep the Air Bag in the back and also let’s get back to a low. I want it really low and light.’”
Since the first KD shoe hit the stores in 2009, Durant has been at the forefront of Nike’s campaign to promote the NBA’s Mr. Nice Guy. The KD VI breaks away from the first five editions as the most innovative and revolutionary edition with a new tongue assymetrical construction, zoom air in the forefoot, max air in the heel, ultra-thin two-layer flywire and a hexagon sole pattern for increased traction. The eye-catching design was deliberate as Durant said, “I want the people in the top of the arena to be able to see my shoe.”
During his shoe launch, Mayor Grant gave Durant a key to the city. “To receive this means a lot to me,” he said. “Hopefully, we can continue to build this city up and let people know where we come from. I wanna put Seat Pleasant on the map.”
Durant said he’ll always be grateful to the NBA stars who paved the way for others. “Guys like Kobe, LeBron and Melo do a great job of taking players under their wing,” he said. “They make it easier for us to walk the path. The Gervins and Birds did it before, they were all willing to help. The guys in the ‘70s and ‘80s built the league then passed the torch to the Jordans who passed it on to LeBron and us. We want to tell the stars of before they’ve left the league in good hands and when we’re done playing, it’ll be our turn to pass the torch. But I expect to be playing until I’m in my 40s.”