"I've been second my whole life," Durant says. "I was the second-best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft. I've been second in the MVP voting three times. I came in second in the Finals. I'm tired of being second. I'm not going to settle for that. I'm done with it."
As insanely talented as Durant is, he has often been the No. 2 guy. Durant was considered the second-best player in his high school class behind Greg Oden, who of course went first ahead of Durant in the 2007 NBA Draft. And while Durant has already won three scoring titles, he still hasn't won an MVP, is 0-1 in the NBA Finals and has generally been viewed as the second-best basketball player in the world behind LeBron James.
Shortly after Durant's comments to Jenkins, his Oklahoma City Thunder bowed out to the Memphis Grizzlies in the second-round of the playoffs. Durant put up gaudy numbers in the five-game series, but he often wore down at the end of games because of the especially heavy burden placed upon him due to the Russell Westbrook knee injury.
Westbrook's knee issues have lingered into this year, once again placing a heavier burden on Durant than expected. After Westbrook was forced to go under the knife for a third time in less than nine months in late December, it looked like the Thunder were in some trouble. Oklahoma City went just 5-5 in the first 10 games after Westbrook's latest surgery, and this despite several ridiculous scoring outputs from Durant.
The fifth loss in that 10-game stretch was all too familiar, a 90-87 loss to the Grizzlies that featured a ton of Durant and not enough help from anybody else.
But things were about to turn around.
Following the loss to Memphis, Oklahoma went on a 10-game tear, with Durant putting up monster game after monster game. A 36-point night in Houston. A 54-point outburst against the Golden State Warriors. A 46-point night against the Portland Trail Blazers, followed up by a 36-point effort the next night in San Antonio. And then there was 41-point performance against the Atlanta Hawks, complete with a game-winner over a double-team. The run was the stuff of legends.
Durant rode an 11-game streak of 30 or more points into Miami on Jan. 29, ready to face the man he has long been chasing after in terms of basketball supremacy. James' Heat of course beat the Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals, and Durant has been the runner-up to James in MVP voting three times. And at the outset of the latest clash between basketball titans, it looked like James was going to come out on top again.
But then Durant and the Thunder woke up, erasing an early 18-point deficit and blitzing the two-time defending champs en route to a 112-95 victory. James did his part to try and keep the Heat in it, but Durant had an answer every time, with a Rucker Park-like battle breaking out at one point:
With 33 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the blowout victory, Durant emphatically made his MVP statement. Durant had already taken grasp of the MVP race thanks to his outrageous January to that point, but to do it in James' home building strongly re-affirmed it.
Just how outrageous was Durant's January? By the time it was all said and done, the man who just wants to be called "KD" finished the month with averages of 35.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.1 assists. The most impressive part? He did it while shooting 54.9 percent overall and 43.6 percent from three. There have been plenty of great scorers in the history of the NBA, but Durant's sterling efficiency has him on the path to becoming one of the best of all-time.
Durant still did finish second to James in All-Star voting, so his time as No. 2 isn't quite over yet. But if Durant continues on the same path, it appears he'll finally best James in MVP voting and take home that coveted first award. Heading into the All-Star Break, Durant leads the league in scoring at 31.5 points per game, and he also has a league-best PER of 30.99. The Thunder currently hold a record of 43-12, which is tops in the entire NBA.
With Durant playing the best basketball of his career without Westbrook, there will be questions about how the eccentric guard fits back into the lineup when healthy. But given how well the Thunder played this year when both were on the court, there's little reason to think the Thunder won't soar to new heights. And if that's the case, perhaps Durant won't just win that first MVP, but also that first NBA championship.