On Kevin Durant, 'one of the worst days of his life,' and staying true to yourself

Kevin Durant prepares himself for what comes next. (AP)

In a GQ magazine profile of Kevin Durant that ranged from asserting he’s “on the same level as a basketball player” as LeBron James to admitting, “I don’t want to have to be the leader,” the Golden State Warriors superstar called his Twitter episode over the summer — the one where he disrespected his former coach and teammates on the Oklahoma City Thunder — “one of the worst days of his life.”

When Durant wrote of OKC on Twitter, “He didn’t like the organization or playing for Billy Donovan. His roster wasn’t that good, it was just him and Russ” Westbrook, it created a firestorm, mainly because he seemed to finally be revealing his true feelings for leaving Oklahoma City for Golden State, but also because it lead to widespread questions about whether he operates burner accounts to defend himself in the third person. It was one of the more bizarre NBA stories in a slew of strange sagas.

It also ate him up inside. “I didn’t eat yesterday,” Durant told GQ the day after he threw Donovan and company under the bus. “I wanted to go disappear. I didn’t even feel like that when I switched teams.”

[Follow Ball Don’t Lie on social media: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Tumblr]

In the immediate aftermath of the since-deleted tweets, Durant offered an equally odd explanation, saying he woke up from a nap and fired off the tweets without think. “I just don’t remember it,” he told USA Today’s Sam Amick. “I remember what I said and how I said it, but I just forget everything else.”

“My peers are going to look at me like an idiot,” Durant added. On stage of TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF 2017 event the next day, he expressed remorse for “using my former coach’s name and my former organization that I played for,” he said. “That was childish, that was idiotic, all those types of words.”

All that was covered in the GQ piece, too, but the profile’s behind-the-scenes look at just how deeply the Twitter drama effected Durant raised a few interesting points. First of all, “one of the worst days of his life” is serious business for a guy whose career has seen injury and championship heartbreak. Beyond that, though, it offered a window into the human side of a seemingly superhuman athlete.

“I still struggle to feel confident in myself,” Durant told a couple high school students while the story was still the subject of sports debate, according to GQ. “I still struggle with seeking approval from others sometimes, not realizing that I’m winning in life. Sometimes I tend to go backwards. But that’s just part of life. Don’t feel down about it. Don’t feel upset. Don’t feel embarrassed, even though you are embarrassed at times. … I’m having a bad day today. But you guys are giving me life.”

To understand how an MVP bound for the Hall of Fame could struggle with confidence is to appreciate Durant’s reasons for joining the Warriors. We’ve gone over them ad nauseam over the past 16 months. Essentially, he just wanted to concentrate on becoming the basketball player he could be in a system that allowed him the freedom to do so. He had outgrown Oklahoma City, and Golden State offered all he ever wanted in basketball, with the added bonus of meeting his outside interests in the Bay Area.

The narrative nationally was that he was either a traitor for leaving the Thunder behind or a ring-chaser for joining a 73-win Warriors team that had just knocked him out of the playoffs. Or both.

And there may even be a hint of truth to the ring-chasing bit. “Steph Curry is the face of the franchise, and that helps me out, because I don’t have to,” Durant told GQ. “I don’t want to have to be the leader. I’m not a leader. I’m bad at saying, ‘Stand behind me and follow me.’ No. I’m one of those guys that’s just like, ‘Let’s do this shit together. Let’s just work everybody together. I don’t mind being on the front line with you, but let’s come and do it together.’ That’s my way of leadership. I’m leading by example.”

But from the perspective of a 29-year-old still in search of himself, it takes a look inward and some stones to realize who you are, embrace those qualities, and take a leap of faith. And this is quite a reward: “I came here to play basketball in the exact same way I’m playing it right now,” Durant told GQ.

This is perhaps why he holds Kyrie Irving in such high esteem for seeking his basketball truth and asking off a Cleveland Cavaliers team that featured LeBron James and reached three straight Finals.

“Kyrie’s always been his own man, always been his own entity,” Durant told The Athletic’s Anthony Slater from a late-night practice in Boston. “Nobody made him. Nobody in this league did. He kind of did this on his own. So seeing him in Boston, seeing what he’s doing now, it’s no surprise to me. And I’m pretty sure it’s no surprise to any other player in the league because they know what he can do.

“But when you make the move he made and all the stuff that comes with it, a lot of people start to look at him a little different now — well, not different, but look at him more now than they did before and in a different way,” added Durant, fully relating to Irving. “And he’s proven a lot of people, well, I don’t know whether it’s right or wrong, I guess both. But he’s playing some really good basketball.”

And isn’t that what it’s all about for a basketball player — finding the right fit for you? That’s most definitely not what it’s all about if you’re a fan of the Thunder or Cavaliers and your team just lost a perennial All-Star to free agency or a trade request, but that’s because there’s an irrationality to fandom that doesn’t allow us to see them as ourselves, in search of that better work-life balance.

“We always had the power, as players,” Durant told GQ’s Zach Baron in late September. “We’re just realizing it now. It’s like when you wake up — we woke now. And a lot of people didn’t want us to be woke. They wanted us to stay in this trance, that we felt like we had to live our life based on what somebody else does. They can move us when they want to, they can sign us when they want to. … We got control of that now.”

Durant credited LeBron James for showing him the path upon leaving Cleveland for the Miami Heat and returning to the Cavaliers four years later. He “gave me the courage to do that,” Durant told GQ. “Now, I could have did a better job studying how he approached everything after that. But I did it my way. And the next guy is gonna look at me as an example. We’re all working together now.”

In that sense, Durant has followed LeBron into becoming a leader. Isaiah Thomas cited Durant’s free agency decision when he brought the hypocritical nature of NBA loyalty to the forefront in a Players’ Tribune piece after being unceremoniously traded from the Celtics to the Cavaliers over the summer:

“I was thinking about that last year with KD and his free agency — about how people gave him such a hard time for doing what he felt was best for him and his future. How they turned him into a villain, just for doing what was his right to do as a free agent in this league. Suddenly, it was, ‘Oh, he’s selfish,’ or, ‘Oh, he’s a coward.’ Suddenly, just for doing business on his end, and doing right by himself, he was portrayed as this bad guy.

“But that’s what I think my trade can show people. I want them to see how my getting traded — just like that, without any warning — by the franchise that I scratched and clawed for, and bled for, and put my everything on the line for? That’s why people need to fix their perspective. It’s like, man — with a few exceptions, unless we’re free agents, 99 times out of 100, it’s the owners with the power. So when players are getting moved left and right, and having their lives changed without any say-so, and it’s no big deal … but then the handful of times it flips, and the player has control … then it’s some scandal? Just being honest, but — to me, that says a lot about where we are as a league, and even as a society.”

There’s little doubt Durant’s quest for his own basketball nirvana played some role, however indirectly or minuscule, in Irving’s own recognition that there is more to basketball than playing second fiddle on a successful team. Irving’s trade request begot the Isaiah Thomas deal, and the business of basketball came full circle, so seize what you can while you can, because it can all be gone tomorrow.

Just don’t throw your old coworkers under the bus on Twitter when you’re done. If you do, well, take a cue from Durant, who realized his struggles with self-confidence can lead him to some pretty dark places, but overcoming them has taken him to some pretty cool spots, too. And maybe that’s what I’m on about here: This is a new NBA generation, one in touch with their psyche, and we can learn from it.

– – – – – – –

Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!