Last season Kevin Durant picked up 12 technical foul, which was pretty uncharacteristic of a guy cultivating an image as the nice guy around the NBA. He was yelling at teammates, referees, pretty much everyone but Rumble the Bison.
The reason was his title obsession, Durant told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman in a very honest interview.
“Last year, I was obsessed with it,” Durant said of winning a title. “Like, I wasn’t going to sleep because I wanted to win so bad. I was screaming at my teammates, at the refs, at the coaches. I got mad because I thought ‘if we have a bad game here, we’re not going to win a championship.’”
Durant said he basically went Michael Jordan/Kobe Bryant — obsessed with winning to the exclusion of all else. “If I miss a shot, I’m going to miss this shot in Game 6 of the Finals,’” kind of attitude.
And when Durant looked in the mirror after the season, he did not like who he saw.
That’s not him. He’s competitive — you don’t get to be the second best player walking the face of the earth without some fire inside you, without incredibly long hours working on your game — but he is not built in the Kobe/Jordan mold and doesn’t want to be.
He’s looking at the world differently this season.
“So I’m not going to let that overtake my mind,” said Durant of his championship chase. “I mean, of course I want to win it, but I’m not obsessed with it. I’m going to put in the work to help my team, but I’m not going to be obsessed with it because that’s when I compromise myself, and most of the time it doesn’t work out…
“Maybe it’s not (a bad thing),” Durant said of the obsession. “But for me, it was just, like, I wasn’t enjoying it no more. It was more like a job more than just going out there having fun playing the game. I never want to lose the love. Once you lose love of something and you make it into a job then …”
It flies in the face of the myth we’ve built up around winning in a post Jordan world, but Durant is right. We in Western culture gravitate to people who are single-minded in their devotion and focus, whether it is music or sports or making sushi. We idolize people who obsess over one thing and succeed. But there has never been one road to success anywhere, including in the NBA — Shaquille O’Neal has four rings, is a lock first-ballot Hall of Famer, he played hard on the court, but would you call him obsessed?
There is no single personality that can win titles. LeBron James won the last two and before that his critics said he lacked a killer instinct (some fools still do) but because he doesn’t go Jordan doesn’t mean he lacks drive or focus.
Durant is a joy to watch because he seems to just be having fun on the court, because he has a love for the game that is genuine. It’s different than Kobe or Jordan, but so what? You can win other ways and Durant needs to find his own path there. He just turned 25, he’s got time.