DONUT 1: Maybe KD's good-natured omnipresence is a manipulation, and maybe he does really have this much Dirk in him.
But I’m falling for it. As anger threatens to devolve into apathy, right now the NBA world needs something to believe in, something to care about. So let’s believe in the sincerity of Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant.
DONUT 2: We don’t know at what stage labor negotiations exist. (Or if they even do.) But we know where to find Kevin Durant: On a basketball court somewhere. Maybe he’s street-ballin’ at Rucker in New York and scoring 66. Maybe he’s in the Drew League in L.A., just looking for a game. Maybe he’s schooling LeBron by scoring 59 points in Baltimore. Maybe he’s in the gym, as rumored, trying to add a bit of mass to that frame that when coming out of the University of Texas couldn’t lift 125 pounds. Maybe he’s on the UT football sideline, goofing around like the kid he is. Or maybe he’s in China or Manila or Baton Rouge, where between working on his step-back jumper he’s going to appear in a film.
DONUT 3: There are enough YouTube videos on all of KD’s summer work to fill a stadium -- and maybe the viral efforts are indeed a sign that KD (and Nike) knows exactly how to operate.
But even if it’s purposeful, it’s necessary. And Durant is the right man for the job, a Dirk-alike in the sense that he combines a huggable presence with an intense one. He has “street cred,’’ which I suppose matters to some. That was revealed when photos of a shirt-less Durant showed him to have “business tattoos’’; that is, ink only in places on his 6-9 body that would be hidden by clothing whenever Durant needs to meet with some easily offended CEO.
But he also has a countenance your mother would probably embrace. Who doesn’t get the warm fuzzies from a kid in a backpack?
DONUT 4: Now, as Dallas Mavericks fans, we are supposed to harbor a regionally-based sports-hate for the Oklahoma City Thunder. It's a Longhorns-Sooners thing, a Red River thing, and maybe it's a two-terrific-basketball-teams-in-the-West thing.
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DONUT 5: And let's give the Dirk his due: Kevin Durant hasn’t won a championship (yet). So in that sense, he’s not The UberMan.
DONUT 6: But his presence on the scene this summer -- every scene! -- is in stark contrast to the star of the summer of 2010, when LeBron James invited himself into America’s living room … and America reacted as if he’d forgotten to wipe his feet before entering.
"The Decision." The ESPN primetime special. The YES WE DID pep rally in Miami, a victory parade thrown by a team, for itself, before it’d ever played a game. LeBron was the talk of the town, and not just among basketball fans. … which was the whole intent of the aspiring “global icon.’’
That was James’ summer and Wade’s summer and we learned a great deal about them.
DONUT 7: This is Dirk Nowitzki’s summer and Durant’s summer. And this summer, despite the dark lockout clouds, is somehow more palatable.
If we don’t have NBA basketball for awhile, at least we’ve got guys like these two. Now, that doesn’t mean KD runs away from his own mini-controversies. It just means they seem less contrived than LeBron’s. We don’t ask these guys to be perfect. But real? That would be nice.
DONUT 8: LeBron dumped little Cleveland. KD seems to embrace little OKC. Indeed, on the same exact day last summer when LeBron made his signing a TV show, Durant announced his decision to re-up in 140 characters or less.
DONUT 19: I know it’s simplistic to portray one athlete as a “good guy’’ and the other as a “black hat.’’ They are all somebody’s little boy, you know. They all bleed and they all cry and when they get to the very top, which is the place Kevin Durant is heading, they all must have some sort of narcissism that drives them. Hey, you cannot become the youngest scoring champ in NBA history, as KD did in 2010 at age 21, without an engorged level of healthy arrogance.
And you cannot win a second straight scoring title, as Durant did this year, without more engorging.
DONUT 10: So Durant has his tats. And that silly backpack, which really is a Nike ad. And he uses Twitter to diss Michael Vick as a QB. And the D.C. native wears his nasty Redskins-colored shoes. Oh, and the Thunder made it to last year’s Western Conference Finals, where his only crime was losing to the eventually world-champion Mavericks.
DONUT 11: All of this is grand for the brand, of course. There is big money in basketball heroism. But at the same time, KD makes you hunger to believe.
DONUT 12: "I just want to hoop,’’ Durant told the Washington Post when asked about his many street-ball appearances. “I just want to break the barrier. A lot of NBA players don't do it as often as I do it now … Guys may come, play one or two games, but I play all summer, so I just want to break the barrier, show them that I'm regular.’’
That sounds sincere. Maybe it is staged snot, maybe it’s intentionally grainy film, maybe it’s all part of a sneaker campaign. But this summer has convinced me that most of all, Kevin Durant just wants basketball.
That makes him real. That makes him regular. Because all the rest of us want is basketball, too.