No matter where he plays, Kevin Durant knows he can always go home

Kevin Durant attends the Athletes vs Cancer Celebrity Flag Football Game. (John Salangsang/Invision/AP)

SEAT PLEASANT, Md. – With the Larry O’Brien trophy at his hip, Kevin Durant took his most cherished piece of hardware on a tour of the very streets that developed him into an NBA champion and Finals MVP. A crowd of admirers captured each step on their smartphones, ignoring the yellow ropes on both sides meant to separate them from their hometown hero. Someone rushed toward Durant and asked what advice he would give to kids who hoped to one day be where he is. Durant looked back without breaking stride or making eye contact and said, “Believe.”

Durant then slid into the passenger’s seat of a silver convertible Corvette before deciding to prop himself up on the back seat, the better to roll through the nearly two-mile parade route to wave to fans and occasionally hoist his shiny, gold sidekick to applauding fans. Surrounded by the comfort of prideful familiar faces, Durant didn’t have to worry about clapping back at a Twitter troll as he was serenaded with chants of “MVP! PGC!” The last three letters were short for Prince George’s County, the basketball hotbed continues to crank out talent – including No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz – and the one that Durant has never been shy about shouting out at almost every turn. He repaid their love by signing every basketball, T-shirt, basketball card or piece of paper passed his way through the slow-moving car.

Seat Pleasant honored Durant with his own day on Thursday, as he received proclamations from the mayor and governor. Hundreds of people stepped out from their porches to the parade route, gathered outside Carmody Hills Baptist Church or lined up along the street to catch a glimpse. When the parade finally concluded, Durant told dignitaries and children at the ceremony honoring his achievements and community involvement, “I owe you guys way more than you owe me.”

Durant doesn’t frequent his home as much as he once did but remains connected through his community work and an AAU program, Team Durant, run by his father, Wayne Pratt. And he has never forgotten the Seat Pleasant Activity Center where he worked out and played so much that he’d often fall asleep on the court. He won a championship in his first season after joining the Golden State Warriors with a decision that remains controversial, but his mother, Wanda, was quick to remind anyone who would listen this afternoon that his eventual crown was “20-plus years in the making.”

“I’m elated. Especially after so much ridicule,” Wanda Durant told The Vertical from a special room in the recreation center known as Durant’s Den. “He proved that he never stopped working. He always worked for what he wanted. He dug in. He said, ‘I know what I have to do for myself.’ And no matter what happened, he said he knew the decision he made was the best decision. But this was the cherry on top, the championship. To come back and be celebrated for something that you wanted and you started this place working for it, it’s a blessing.”

Wanda Durant trailed her son Thursday from her own convertible Corvette, waving and shouting out to friends on the sidewalk and beaming all the way. This is a community that doesn’t care where Durant plays, only that he represents them well in whichever uniform he chooses. Durant proved strong enough to handle the barbs and will soon own a ring for his perseverance.

“It was difficult to see, to hear,” Wanda Durant told The Vertical about the negativity her son had to endure in the past year. “And I still read the stuff on social media. It’s crazy. But I didn’t have the immediate notion to protect him, because he’s a man. He made a decision and that reaction came with the decision. So it was a part of him solidifying who he is as a man, to take the ridicule, to accept it and deal with it and move on from it. I didn’t like it as his mom. There were times I rebutted some of it – quite nicely, I think, honestly. But I didn’t want to protect him. He stood up and you have to show them who you are.”

Durant was more efficient as a player but also gained more comfort in his own skin and confidence in his voice in the past season in Golden State. Liberated by no longer having to satisfy everyone by saying and doing what’s expected and easily accepted, Durant was much more blunt. In his assessment of the league. Against critics of how he hurt the game and his reputation by joining an established title contender. And he wasn’t afraid to take a stance, political or otherwise. On Thursday, he used his time within miles of the White House to twice blast Donald Trump. First telling TMZ, “We don’t [expletive] with him,” and expounding on those comments to ESPN.

“Kevin has always allowed his personality and his game to speak for him,” Wanda Durant told The Vertical. “He’s a little more vocal now than he was then, but that’s not surprising, either, because he was very vocal at home, as a kid, where he was comfortable, in close quarters.”

Nothing Durant did in the past year was a surprise to his parents. But after avoiding much criticism or hatred through his first nine seasons, Durant did reveal how he could respond in the face of adversity. And not just the vitriol from Internet trolls and other prognosticators over leaving Oklahoma City; Durant had the very real challenge of coming back from a serious knee injury suffered in his lone regular-season trip to Washington. Durant remained upbeat, returned to hop on the Warriors’ speeding train to immortality and finished as the engineer of one of the greatest postseason runs in NBA history.

“What he showed me this year was fortitude,” Pratt told The Vertical. “Because it wasn’t easy – especially when you take yourself out of your comfort zone and put yourself in a brand-new situation where everybody in the world is against you. And that’s what I wanted to see from him. You got the whole world against you, what are you going to do? It speaks a lot about his character and him as a person, to go through the things, especially when he got injured and the naysayers are like, ‘That’s what he gets.’ For him to come back from that and to be the best player in the best game speaks a lot about my son. And I’m proud of him. I’m proud of him going through this process and never saying, ‘Woe is me.’ Never saying, ‘Why don’t they like me?’ He just said, ‘I’m going to go do what I do – and I’m going to do it better than I’ve ever done it.’ ”

Pratt then added, “This community gave him that.”

After being no better than the runner-up in so many instances throughout his career, Durant is now motivated by a desire to remain on top. He already sacrificed millions to help the Warriors maintain their enviable talent and depth. “As he’s said, it’s really hard to rise to the top of your profession, in any profession,” Wanda Durant told The Vertical. “It’s rewarding for me, because I know what he had to endure from the beginning to get there.”

As he looked around a gymnasium adorned with reminders of his accomplishments, before an audience of children dreaming of similar success, Durant used his brief comments to express his gratitude for their sustained support from the moment he decided to hoop in those walls. “I was raised here. It wasn’t just a place to play basketball here. That was because of all the people. I walked in the gym, I felt love,” Durant said, adding that it is important because, “in our country, in our world, there is so much negative stuff going on. It means a lot to bring a championship back here. Hopefully, I bring more and more and more.”

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