OAKLAND -- For nearly 11 months, as he and his team completed a satisfying regular season and perfection through the first three rounds of the playoffs, jabs have been hitting Kevin Durant. He feels them and tries like hell to shake them off.
Mostly, he does.
Durant finally has reached a point, he says, where the jabs leave no lasting bruises or scars. They don’t linger as they did when, even though he understood it was a fruitless pursuit, he was trying to please every man and woman and child on earth.
“I realized it early, but I was still trying to do it,” Durant said in an exclusive interview with NBCBayArea.com. “And I was driving myself crazy, just trying to compromise so much to make everybody happy. It may not be anything huge, you know? But the small things you try to please everyone with end up stacking up until there’s a tipping point."
Durant has been a frequent target since last July 4, when he left the Oklahoma City Thunder, the only franchise he had ever known, to join the Warriors -- exactly five weeks after the Warriors ousted the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
The reaction was immediate and largely vitriolic. The most popular athlete in the state of Oklahoma bolted, and the locals wasted little time burning his jerseys and disparaging him in public. More than a few NBA notables dived in with their opinions, slinging jabs and darts. KD is soft. It’s a weak move. Taking the easy road. He can’t take OKC to the top, so he’s joining a team that can take him to the top.
Durant has had to train himself, with assistance from his teammates, not to let it bother him.
Rap helps. Asked recently by Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News to name a song that would describe his first season with the Warriors, Durant mentions Frank Ocean by name but settles upon the Rick Ross tune “Santorini Greece,” which features a searing, angry intro expressing deep frustrations with “haters” of the world.
Yeah, he wants to be liked and loved but he understands there will be those who will line up against him. So there is a barely submerged fury that occasionally spills out, such as when he suggested those fans bored by the Warriors rolling through the postseason didn’t have to watch.
“You can take control of what you want to do and just go from there,” he says. “It’s about learning from all the mistakes and celebrating all the victories.”
So if Doc Rivers, the coach and general manager of the Clippers -- who also pursued Durant when he became a free agent last summer -- wants to keep jabbing, so be it.
If Paul Pierce, the retired star, wants to thump Durant for jumping teams, it’s his prerogative -- never mind that Pierce’s time with the Celtics peaked when they, in a matter of days, added future Hall of Fame players Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
Rivers and Pierce, this week, are the latest to make pointed comments directed at Durant and his decision to come to the Warriors.
Let ‘em talk. Durant is OK if they do. That’s up to them. He doesn’t play with them and definitely doesn’t play for them.
This is made much easier for Durant by being with teammates he enjoys and a franchise that makes him happy. There is not a fraction of an ounce of regret. Indeed, there is a visible joy at the prospect of spending the foreseeable future with the Warriors.
It’s a simple matter of right place, right man and, most definitely, the right time.
“I grew up in the NBA in a culture that taught professionalism,” Durant says. “Things like being on time, putting in hard work, being first in the gym and the last to leave, watching film at home -- all the stuff that grows you into a player. That’s what young players need when they come into the league. They need those stern teachings to learn how to be an NBA player.
“Here . . . it just feels like this is where you go when you graduate from that.”
Though Durant can opt out of his contract this summer and go elsewhere, there is no question he wants to remain with the Warriors. Already intrigued by their style of play, he was seduced by their final recruiting pitch last July and continues to be enamored with the way the Warriors do things.
“It’s loose, and you can apply everything you’ve learned, in my case, from being where I was,” he says. “You add your part into the pie.
“Everybody is different here. It’s not like everybody has to come in at a specific time to work out. It’s not like guys are doing the same things. Everybody has his own routine, and it’s OK if one is different from the other. I feel like everything I’ve learned over the last nine years, I’ve been able to apply here in a different way. It’s just a relaxed environment. Nobody is on your back about anything. They want you to be prepared, but they trust that you’re a professional.”
So don’t be surprised if Durant is a member of a Warriors recruiting group this summer, when it’s time to restock the roster. He’s a willing salesman. And, to hear him tell it, that’s not all.
“I’ve got friends around the league,” he says, grinning.
It sounds, and looks, like a warning to the rest of the NBA.