DETROIT — Kevin Durant had just polished off a sterling, 43-point performance in a comeback win over the Detroit Pistons when he ran into someone who many believed would follow in his footsteps until the past couple of years.
The Eastern Michigan sophomore had just recently finished a game himself, scoring 19 points in a 79-77 win over Detroit Mercy, and was in the bowels of Little Caesars Arena waiting to chat with Durant.
Bates recently received 18 months probation after a gun was found in a vehicle he was driving in September. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge last week, and The Detroit News reported that the conviction will be expunged from his record if he completes probation successfully.
“I like that he’s going the total opposite route in life,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “Leaving school early, transferring from Memphis, got arrested. Went through some s***. You gotta go through some s*** in this life to truly understand where you are.
“He’s playing good ball right now. He’s been through some s***. He’s a little more grounded.”
To be clear, Durant wasn’t endorsing Bates being arrested. He was merely describing the totality of Bates’ road and how difficult it is — despite skills and pedigree — to get to the next level. Durant has followed basketball at all levels, so it was more than just passing encouragement of Bates; there seems to be true investment in him.
Bates was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and won the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year in 2020, but he hasn’t yet fulfilled his promise. He is averaging 18.9 points and 4.9 rebounds for Eastern Michigan, shooting 46% from the field and 39% from 3-point range.
As a prep star from Ypsilanti, Michigan, Bates possessed a smooth jumper and is tall and slender like Durant was while coming up in the Washington, D.C., area. Durant resisted the urge to stay in the area for college and didn’t give the Washington Wizards serious consideration during free agency, but he thinks being home could be better for Bates.
Bates’ father, Elgin, was with him as Emoni posed for photos with Durant and Irving.
“He’s at home. He’s got a support system,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “It could be worse when you’re away from home, and you don’t have that influence around you, and you’re running behind some other dudes. It’s good to see him balling out right now.”