Kevin Durant sobbed as he spoke of the single mother who once woke him in the middle of the night, forcing him to run hills so that he could chase greatness.
He teared up as he recounted the teammate who wrote the initials "K.D." and "MVP" on a piece of paper and placed it in his locker, girding him from doubt in the midst of a losing streak.
He paused to keep from crying as he spoke of the city that has embraced him unconditionally, cheering him even on the rare occasions his shots aren't falling and his team isn't winning.
On the day the Oklahoma City forward won the NBA's most-valuable-player award for the first time, Durant lost his steely exterior, endearing himself even more to a fan base that had long swaddled him in adoration.
"Why am I crying so much?" Durant asked, interrupting himself midsentence during an emotionally charged acceptance speech Tuesday afternoon inside the Thunder's old practice facility.
Maybe it was because the skinny kid who grew up wanting to be a rec league basketball coach had just soundly defeated four-time MVP LeBron James, collecting 119 of 125 first-place votes. James finished second with six first-place votes and the Clippers' Blake Griffin was third.
Durant won basketball's biggest individual award after a season in which he complemented his high-volume scoring with rugged defense and increased deference to his teammates. He averaged career highs in points (32.0) and assists (5.5), helping the Thunder go 25-11 in games in which star teammate Russell Westbrook was sidelined.
The celebration allowed the Thunder to exhale one day after a 17-point defeat to the Clippers in the opener of the Western Conference semifinals. Game 2 is Wednesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
"We'll talk about the Clippers tomorrow," Durant said, triggering cheers from a crowd that included Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.
Leave it to Durant to provide a sturdy barrier from the swirling winds that could envelop the Thunder as soon as this summer. Anything short of a Finals appearance could prompt the team to consider trading Westbrook because of his repeated struggles to defer to his superstar teammate.
Durant acknowledged the challenges of playing with the alternately brilliant and brutal Westbrook.
"There's days where I just want to tackle you and tell you to snap out of it sometimes and I know there's days you want to do the same thing with me," Durant said, looking directly at his teammate seated behind him. "I love you, man. A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player and I'm the first to have your back through it all. Just stay the person you are. Everybody loves you here; I love you."
Durant's speech was a 25-minute love-fest that he said was born of his desire to thank those who made his MVP possible.
He praised Caron Butler for leaving the inspirational note in his locker only a few weeks after joining the team.
He acknowledged Kendrick Perkins for sending him encouraging text messages after defeats.
He joked that Serge Ibaka, a native of the Republic of Congo, was like a brother even though he didn't speak English.
And in an uh-oh for Lakers fans who hope Durant decides to head west in the summer of 2016 when he becomes a free agent, Durant spoke glowingly about Oklahoma City, calling it a "perfect place for me." He even thanked the Oklahoman for its infamous "Mr. Unreliable" headline, saying it didn't bother him.
"I enjoy being a part of something like this, knowing that when you come into the arena they're going to love you no matter what," Durant said. "Losing by 25 in the playoffs or winning Game 7 on your home floor, they're going to always feel the same way about us and we don't want to take that for granted because the grass is not always greener on the other side and you learn to appreciate these wonderful people here."
Durant saved his most effusive praise for his mother, Wanda Pratt, who sat in the front row. As a 21-year-old single mother, Pratt had shuttled Durant and his older brother from apartment to apartment in a suburb of Washington, somehow keeping the family financially afloat.
"We weren't supposed to be here," Durant said as his mother openly wept. "You made us believe, you kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn't eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry, you sacrificed for us.
"You're the real MVP."
By the time he was finished talking about seemingly everyone beside himself, Durant had made a lot of people feel that way.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times