By: Joseph M. Hoedel, Ph.D.
Provided By: Character Development & Leadership
"All you guys have made me a better player. I wish I had a Sharpie, so I could write all your names on here because you had a hand in this."
Kevin Durant is one of the most dominant basketball players of our time and perhaps of all time. Standing at 6' 10'', Durant is tall enough to be a center, yet he has the ability to handle the ball like a point guard and shoot like a small forward. This skill set combined with his ferocious work ethic makes him an unstoppable force in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Nevertheless, he is humble: "I know that the hard work got me here. And the day I stop working hard, this can all go away."
Durant spent the first eight years of his career with the Oklahoma City Thunder. In 2016, he signed a contract with the Golden State Warriors who won the NBA title in Durant's first season. In his spare time, he also has helped USA basketball win two gold medals in the 2012 & 2016 Olympics. Today, at the age of 28, Durant has been selected to seven All-NBA teams and has four NBA scoring titles, one NBA Finals MVP and one NBA MVP Award. With a good 10 years of professional basketball ahead of him, there is little doubt that he will be listed as one of the top basketball players to ever lace up the shoes.
Even with all of that going for him, we have selected Kevin Durant for his humility. Near the end of the 2014 NBA season, he was named the MVP of the league. The league provided the award at a formal ceremony in Oklahoma City. On this winter day, Durant gave one of the most emotional, heart-felt acceptance speeches of all time. Durant spoke for 28 minutes. The man cried many tears and thanked everyone from the janitor to the fans to his family. Kevin Durant appreciates that, as good as he is, he would not be standing at the podium if it were not for the people who supported him - as a child, as a developing athlete and man, and as a superstar.
Most people who receive prestigious awards know that they should not accept all the glory. Recipients should deflect praise and share the credit. After all, they didn't get where they are and stay where they are if it weren't for all the people who helped them. Kevin Durant gets this. It's called "humility". Still, most stars go through the motions. They name a few people or single out someone who helped along the way. Kevin Durant could have taken this familiar role. He had never won a championship and he had finished second in the MVP voting for three consecutive years. He was due. It was his turn. If he would have basked in the spotlight, no one would have knocked him for it.
Instead, his speech is highly regarded in the sports-world as one of the most gracious acceptance speeches of all time. On this day, Kevin Durant made sense of his own history. Fifty years from now, people will point to this speech as one of the defining moments of his career. And so we use Kevin Durant's words to beautifully exemplify our trait of the week - humility.
Durant began and ended his speech by thanking God: "I want to thank God for changing my life. Basketball is just a platform in order for me to inspire people and I realize that." He pointed out the many others who had helped him as a child as he was raised by a single mother in a tough urban environment just outside of Washington, DC. He acknowledged the coaches from the recreational center who cared enough to keep Durant and his two brothers off the streets, saying, "I had so much help. So many people believed in me when I didn't believe in myself."
Durant then went on to acknowledge every member of the team. He didn't just read their names off a list. He spoke from the heart about each of them. He used the words "love" and "appreciate" and "thank you" so many times, it was near impossible to count. This is what he said about one of his newest teammates:
Caron (Butler), even though you just got here a few months ago, we've grown so close over these last few weeks and I can remember when you first got here...I don't know why I'm crying so much, man...you wrote a piece of paper in my locker and it said, "KD MVP." And that was after we lost two or three straight. I go home and think about that stuff, man. When you got people behind you, you can do whatever. I thank you, man. I appreciate you.
Durant also took some time to acknowledge that he is not perfect. He is not always at his best. He is not always strong. He too needs support and encouragement:
You guys make me so much better without even knowing, man. I know there are days when I have my bad days. I say some words I'm not supposed to say sometimes, but when I need an extra push, you guys are there, man. I appreciate that because I'm not always the best leader. I'm not always the best player. I don't always shoot the best in games. But our little handshakes we do before games, that gets me going.
Of course, he thanked the owner of his team and his coaches, saying things like, "If our owner is behind us, we can do it all. I thank you so much for giving me this opportunity." But Durant also thanked the entire support staff. He thanked the ball boys, the athletic trainer and the custodian; all the often-forgotten people:
All you guys have made me a better player. I wish I had a Sharpie, so I could write all your names on here because you had a hand in this. You made me believe in myself. You made me a better person, a better player. Your words of encouragement, your love, your positivity got me through. And I thank you guys.
Twenty-five minutes into his speech, he acknowledged his family. He discussed his grandmother, his father and his two brothers. He then moved on to his mother. With visible tears streaming down his cheeks, his words left everyone in the audience with similar tears.
(Mom) I don't think you know what you did. You had my brother when you were 18 years old. Three years later, I came out. The odds were stacked against us. Single parent with two boys by the time you were 21 years old. Everybody told us we weren't supposed to be here. We went from apartment to apartment by ourselves. One of the best memories I had was when we moved into our first apartment, no bed, no furniture and we just sat in the living room and just hugged each other. We thought we made it.
When something good happens to you, I don't know about you guys, but I tend to look back to what brought me here. Wasn't supposed to be here. You made us believe. You kept us off the street. You put clothes on our back, food on the table. When you didn't eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You are the real MVP.
That, ladies and gentlemen is how you do it. As an author, I could spend the next 10 pages trying to define humility, but it would not be any better than this example of Kevin Durant's character.