May 26, 2011
In many ways, Kevin Durant(notes) and Dirk Nowitzki(notes) are similar players: They're both tall forwards with shooting ability typically only seen in guards, the sort of offensive weapons that come around once every decade. When they met in this Western Conference finals, two paradigm shifters passed in the night.
For Durant, though, it was not a particularly special moment, and it seems he felt no special kinship with Dirk following Wednesday night's 100-96 series-clinching win for the Mavericks in Dallas. For proof, watch the video above in which a reporter asks the young Thunder star how he felt to see Nowitzki succeed after several years of first-round losses. The answer, in short, was that he was "not happy at all," because he's a strong competitor who focuses on wins.
It was a somewhat confusing response for a player who has been held up as a humble superstar in an era when most of the league's best players think of themselves quite highly. For many players, this question would have been a relative softball with an easy answer about how the NBA is a fraternity and it's nice to see great players succeed. However, Durant's humility has never seemed forced: It's less a product of his connection to other players than a part of his single-minded focus on improving as a basketball player.
Somewhat paradoxically, Durant is humble in spite of being selfish, in the sense that he focuses on his own areas for improvement with a determination that occasionally veers into obsession. Unlike someone like LeBron James, he can't view losing to the Mavericks as part of a narrative that Dirk has already experienced in part, because he always cares most about the challenges directly in front of him. A loss can be a learning experience, but that doesn't make it tolerable.
(Video via the Tumblr of Bethlehem Shoals)