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49ers’ NaVorro Bowman remembers urging Kevin Durant to shoot in middle school

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Imagine Kevin Durant as a skinny, timid teen being told to shoot by his middle school point guard who saw so much potential all those years ago.

He needed a little urging back then. Much of it came from star San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who fondly recalls his days passing to the future NBA star.

Bowman, who claims he was the superior player at Drew Freeman Middle School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, used to encourage the lanky Durant to be aggressive, to take it to the hoop with authority. Durant already measured more than 6 feet tall at the time and would rapidly add inches in the upcoming years.

“Can you believe we had to tell him to shoot?” Bowman recalled with a grin last week at Levi’s Stadium while relaxing after football practice in Santa Clara.

“Yeah, we had to tell him to shoot. We knew that he could play the game and he would eventually get better, but how tall he was, back in the day if you were that tall you would be in the post or you would be in the paint. This guy was on the wing. You could see the talent there. Eventually, as you see now, he grew into it and became a great player.”

Durant insists all he wanted to do was create opportunities for others.

“I would just always want to please my teammates, so I would pass up a shot to get somebody else a look,” Durant said. “I always had that trait and that kind of turned into not being aggressive, if that’s what it was called. But I was more so just catering to my teammates, trying to make them feel comfortable. And at a young age, NaVorro being such a leader that he is, he knew that I had some pretty good talent at that age and he just told me, `Go out there and just play.’ As a kid, you need that, you want that validation from your teammates. Especially starting off early when I started to take basketball really, really serious, just a couple words from him meant a lot.”

They’ve since reunited in the Bay Area, Bowman cheering for KD to win his first championship with the Warriors. Bowman plans to be there in person at Oracle Arena this week. Game 1 against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers is Thursday night.

The Maryland boys’ paths crossed before middle school, as opponents in AAU ball – Durant figures around age 11.

As each chased professional dreams over the next decade, they pushed one another from afar without even knowing it, taking great pride in their shared “DMV” – D.C., Maryland, Virginia – roots and making it big in their respective athletic pursuits.

“We really grew up together. He always played Pee Wee football and you would walk to the field and you’d see NaVorro wearing a No. 99 jersey, all black on with a visor, just bigger than everybody else,” Durant said. “You didn’t really know who he was until he took his helmet off. But you could tell that he was on another level, just his focus, just how much he wanted it, his energy as a kid and then it just continued to grow. I knew we kind of inspired and pushed each other without even having to say anything.”

From age 12 through high school, Bowman would play basketball all day at a 24-hour gym, sometimes going from 8 a.m. until midnight. Durant would join him sometimes, though he lived on the opposite side of town. They knew the same people, and where to land a competitive pickup game.

By eighth grade, scouts flocked to see KD. Bowman attracted a few, too.

Bowman was recruited by DeMatha Catholic High but didn’t want to attend an all-boys school, so he went to nearby Suitland. Durant spent one semester at Suitland, then left for Montrose Christian. That’s where his career took off.

Several prominent schools recruited Bowman for basketball, but he saw a future in football and wound up at Penn State.

“I just made a business decision, knowing that I wasn’t getting taller,” the 6-foot, four-time All-Pro said.

Now, Bowman is getting a thrill as an up-close spectator – supporting a dear friend.

He sent a text message to KD after the Warriors’ sweep of San Antonio last week.

“I had to congratulate him on his success and the choice he made. I know it was hard and challenging but it’s about winning a championship,” Bowman said of KD leaving Oklahoma City. “I think that was his choice and why he made it. I texted him, `I know you’re excited to be where you are and accomplish what you’ve accomplished, let’s go get it, let’s get it taken care of.”‘

Durant, too, is pulling for Bowman as he comes back from another injury, this time a torn Achilles.

“Once I made it, I knew that he was next up, and it’s kind of come full circle from playing eighth grade ball together to us living right down the street from each other. He comes over all the time and he comes to games,” Durant said. “It’s one of those legacy things that we’ll sit down and talk about forever, people from our area just for this to come together like this is divine and it’s special. I have a friend for life in him.”

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Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.