May 18-- OAKLAND, Calif.-Kevin Durant likes his drive to games at Oracle, especially after he makes his way down the hill. Across MacArthur Boulevard. Past the McDonald's in the Eastmont Town Center. All the way down 73rd Avenue.
That's when the drive feels like home. The fast food chains. The flea market. The grime. The kids running around in the street.
Most people see this as the rough part of town they want to speed through. Durant soaks it in.
"It reminds me so much of chocolate city man," Durant said. "I be missing home a lot. So when I ride down through East Oakland to go to the game, I get my fix. I definitely feel like I'm riding around in my own neighborhood."
Durant can never be described as affectless. He is four months shy of 29 years old, transitioning from young adult to a seasoned man. He is not fulfilled by the things that once captured his attention. Tattoos of Tupac and Rick James, his love of photography and burgeoning interest in podcasting reflects layers of depth and robust perspective.
He's earned more than $132 million in the NBA, with another some $200 million coming on his next deal-and that doesn't include the reported $300 million contract with Nike. He's past being consumed by the accumulation of wealth and on to maximize its power.
His very decision to come here was illustrative of how he's searching for more, on the court and off.
That makes Durant is such a great fit here. Yes, he is here to win a championship. He is here to be the saxophone in the Warriors' epic basketball ensemble. He is here to dip his toe in Silicon Valley and expand his empire.
But hopefully he is also here because of the ripe opportunity to be impactful. It certainly seems so.
Because for all the glitz and glamour of the Bay Area, these parts also include grit and gloom. Durant assuredly has a calling to put his arm around some folks who could use some love. And folks around here could use some love.
"Sometimes, we look back and we feel entitled, like this was our destiny," Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. "I think he has a view of appreciation that says, 'Somebody helped me. There was a court I went to, there was a coach that taught me. My mom. People in my life.' He credits them. He doesn't feel like he did it all by himself. I think his hope is with what he is doing off the court ... is to show them someone in his position cares."
Even as he sits and talks about something technically superficial, the refurbishment of basketball courts, as part of his foundation's "Build It And They Will Ball" initiation, it is clear the genesis is something bigger.
This isn't just putting up fiberglass backboards and painting lipstick on blacktops. He is recreating the sensation he's never forgotten. He wants to share the same high he can't resist.
Such was evident Wednesday as he unveiled the new courts at Lincoln Park in Oakland's Chinatown. The gym was filled with hundreds of kids, and more outside waiting on the blue courts with white lines. And while he signed autographs and took photos, doled out smiles and shook hands, that sensation grew. He had to take some shots. He couldn't resist the magnetism of a fresh new court.
"I think once you get older, it's not about just the money, it's about the experience," Durant said. "And that's why we like building courts. I remember how that made me feel when I walked to the court and we had pavement and we had new rims. Me and my friends were just so excited. There might not be a lot of kids that still hoop outside ... but I wanna give that feeling back."
He has given that feeling to his hometown in Seat Pleasant, Md., as well as in Oklahoma City. In Austin and Seattle. In China and Germany. And now he's done it in Oakland. A down payment on the work he hopes to do here.
For Durant, it has never been enough to just give money.
When he donated $1 million to the victims of a major 2013 tornado in Oklahoma, he also visited the wreckage to meet the people. Not only did the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation give nearly $100,000 to Positive Tomorrows, the only school for homeless kids in Oklahoma, he's visited three times and the school has an invitation to call whenever it needs something.
He invested in the delivery service Postmates and spent a day in New York as a bicycle delivery guy. He not only owns a stake in The Players' Tribune, but he's the deputy publisher who has taken pictures and broke major news (last Fourth of July) for the pro athlete-run media website.
Durant has been soaking it up out here, ingratiating himself to the community. Taking BART rides, walking the bridge, hitting up legendary record stores. He queries locals for the treasures not found in tour guides. He got thousands of suggestions from Reddit users on where to go, what to eat and the like.
This is part getting to know his new locale. But here is to hoping it is also scoping out how he can become a pillar in the communities where pillars are needed.
Remember, this feels like home for him. That means he regularly feels the tug of Southeast D.C. on his heart. That means he is constantly prodded by his implanted desire to be a solution.
"Where we're from, it's like a law," Durant said of giving back. "You have to do it."
He is reminded of the neighborhood drug dealers who made sure hungry children had foods and who would treat neighborhood kids to Dave & Busters just because they could. He is reminded of how the community shielded him from trouble, protecting the basketball prodigy from becoming a cautionary tale. He is reminded of trips to the corner store armed only with a shopping list in his head and a note from his mother in his pocket.
Durant loves moments, and the memories of those moments. They are the footprints that trail back from where he's come. They are the anesthesia for a childhood of struggle and suffering, allowing him to enjoy the journey.
For those reasons, he wants to create moments for people. He did that Wednesday, christening the new courts with jump shots and autographs. And this is hopefully the beginning of the mark he plans to leave here. Because if this does remind him of home, then he understands how much he is needed.
"I see where it's going with gentrification," Durant said. "I'm looking at these town homes here or high rises here or big homes here. I wonder where all these people (who once lived here) go and I wonder how they feel just getting overpowered. I think here there's a lot of lost voices and unheard voices and a lot of lost souls that can't really get close to us. ... I know I can't touch every single person. But they can hear my voice. They can know I've got an imprint. Y'all know I can't do everything, but I can do something."
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