Kevin Durant's secret weapon: Mom
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The situation was tense and couldn't have been bigger.
Kevin Durant, the focus of more than 18,000 fans in Oklahoma City Arena and millions more on national TV, was concentrating during the critical fourth quarter of Game 7 of the second round of the NBA playoffs.
His team wins, and it advances in the playoffs. Lose, and the season is over.
"The biggest game of my life," Durant said. "I was focused. I promise, I was locked in."
Then he saw his mom in the arena and laughed.
Across the court, but clearly in another world, Durant's mother, Wanda Pratt, was dancing. Her moves were captured for all to see on the giant video screen, and even her superstar son couldn't help but smile.
"It relaxed me,'' he said. "She's been doing that my whole life."
Durant and the Thunder went on to win the game against Memphis and now are in the Western Conference finals, facing Dallas for the right to play for the NBA title. The tension is back for Durant and his teammates, who are down 3-1 to the Mavericks with Game 5 tonight in Dallas.
Durant takes things in comfortable stride, from playing the game to dealing with fans, teammates and the media, thanks to his mom.
One of the things I've tried to instill in you, is that it didn't have to be you, it just happened to be you. You have to accept your responsibility and be humble. It could just as easily be someone else. All of this is a blessing for a mom to see that her son is the way he is.Wanda Pratt on how she raised her son, Kevin Durant
"People ask him for things all the time,'' teammate Royal Ivey said. "We were in Miami on South Beach and 100 people must have stopped him. He's never acted too big for it all. I've never heard him say no to anyone. It's got to be hard. He can't go anywhere. I think to myself, 'Doesn't he get tired of all this?' And he just keeps on smiling."
And that's just how Pratt expected it to be. Durant grew up playing in rec leagues in Maryland, with his mom hoping he'd stay out of trouble and find some positive influences. He's now the youngest scoring champion in NBA history and has established himself as not just an up-and-coming star, but a top-five player in the world. But he's still the same person.
"Kevin hasn't changed," Pratt said. "He's been like this since he was a baby. Always humble. Low-key, generous, considerate of others. Very giving. No, he hasn't changed at all."
In the past year, Durant won the Pro Basketball Writers' Association Magic Johnson Award, given annually to the player who combines on-court performance with cooperation with the media.
He has given time to a number of charities, including providing for families at Christmas, donating money to the community center where he grew up in Maryland, working with P'Tones Records to help build music studios for high school students in the Washington, D.C., area. He also made a $100,000 donation to help Haitian earthquake relief.
Oh, and this was also in the same year when he announced his new contract -- worth about $86 million -- on Twitter. No press conference. No TV special.
"One of the things I've tried to instill in you, is that it didn't have to be you, it just happened to be you,'' Pratt said of how she raised her son. "You have to accept your responsibility and be humble. It could just as easily be someone else. All of this is a blessing for a mom to see that her son is the way he is."
Durant's father, Wayne Pratt, likes that his son has stayed grounded while becoming a basketball superstar.
"[It's] his humbleness," his dad said. "And how he cares about everyone. He pays attention to everyone. That's what I'm proud of. He has perspective on things. It's just a game. It's his profession, but it's a game. He understands that. There are other aspects to things."
That's something Durant definitely knows about. Coming off a loss to Memphis in Game 3 in the first round, he wasn't in the best mood because of the defeat and the poor game he'd played. But the next day was Mother's Day and he was able to forget about it and focus on his mom.
"We spent the day together,'' Durant said. "We lost Game 3, it was a bad game for me, but she took that away from me. That made me feel better.
"Maybe when I was young it might have been a little different. She wanted me to do well, screaming and yelling. Telling me what to do. Now, she's relaxed and calm. Puts a smile on my face. If I'm struggling, I just look over and she just brings my game up and my day up.''
All of that is refreshing to Durant, and his teammates have noticed.
"It shows how good of a person he is at heart,'' Ivey said. "He's all about his family and friends. He'll give his laughs to anyone. I've learned a lot about him as a person. Just real modest and doesn't consider himself a star. He's real laid-back and easy to talk to if you need something. That kind of thing speaks a lot to me."
And Wanda Pratt's dancing speaks a lot, too.
She's since been shown on the Oklahoma City Arena JumboTron on numerous occasions and her moves, while not legendary, are certainly unique.
"She's always doing that stuff,'' Durant said. "She dances all the time. I've been seeing that since I was young. Those are her moves. Not mine. She taught me everything I know."
And how about those moves her son has demonstrated in his four years in the NBA?
"He's just Kevin to me,'' Wanda said. "I enjoy watching him play, and before anything else, I'm his mother first."