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Kevin Durant’s black pride is stronger than ever: ‘This is about our culture’

The star forward talks about the tragic death of George Floyd, COVID-19, when he’ll play for the Nets and more

Kevin Durant is standing tall. The 6-foot-10 NBA All-Star’s black pride is soaring with the way African Americans are demanding respect in a trying world in the aftermath of the tragic death of George Floyd.

“This is about our culture,” Durant told The Undefeated on Friday. “I’ve seen the care, love and attention we have as a community. With everything going on right now it makes me have a lot of pride. We have a lot of stuff on our back, but we keep fighting through. It’s beautiful to see everybody coming together as one right now for what we all believe in, which is equality. The black community always sticks together through tragedy. But to see everybody support us in their own way is cool.”

Durant talked with The Undefeated about how he has been affected by the tragic death of Floyd, what he is doing to bring awareness to police brutality and injustice, how he dealt with having COVID-19, whether he’ll return to the NBA this season and much more.

How did you react to seeing the video of George Floyd dying from police brutality?

It made me think about all the previous videos we’ve seen involving police brutality. At that point, you get tired of seeing it or wondering if things are going to change or whether we will see this again in the future. Will people’s hearts change? There are just so many questions going through my mind when you see a black man getting slaughtered on TV and on camera like that.

It’s damaging to see another life being taken away from us. Someone with a family. Someone who was a father. A son. A friend. It was just horrible to see, especially coming from people who are supposed to be protecting us. We’re really supposed to feel like we are safe all around. It’s a weird time we are in now.

What do you think about the response from around the world after Floyd’s death?

The world has had enough. It’s been good to see so many different people’s voices being heard around this time. So many different ethnicities coming together to bring awareness to what we’ve been talking about for a while now. Our generation, the younger got involved. Our parents and their parents were fighting for the same thing. To finally see the world come together and all of these big corporations who never spent time to talk about it, you can tell that when we move as one we’re pretty powerful.

How do you feel about the charges against the four former police officers?

I want to see these four officers be tried just like normal citizens would. … A lot of friends and people I’ve met in my lifetime who have dealt with the system. You feel like they have to fight so much to get their voices heard. So, they got to go through the same process. Cops feel like they have protection behind them when they do stuff like that.

To know you don’t have that protection and you have to fend for yourself just like a lot of these underprivileged, low-income communities that you prey on. We want to see how they handle that situation and I’m looking forward to justice being served.

Have you ever experienced police brutality in your life?

No. But I tell you that you don’t have to experience it to understand. Obviously, coming up in your communities you really hear about stuff that doesn’t really hit your front door. But you know how people should be treated, and you know what a cop’s job is supposed to be. Or what we thought it was supposed to be. And to also see civilians gunned down by cops, it doesn’t make any sense.

I never really experienced it. But you empathize with people who have been through it and what they’ve been through.

Do you think people assume that because you are Kevin Durant and are a multimillionaire that police injustice can’t happen to you?

A lot of people feel like when you make it to a certain level financially that you are above everything. Sometimes we may not be put in that situation as much as other people are. But we still understand. And to be honest, it might just be different.

People may wonder who is in your car. What type of person is living in this house [you own] in this neighborhood. So, it’s different with each level you go. But we can all understand as police they have a job. We expect them to do their job. We don’t want to fear the police. Or fear our lives when we see the police.

You are around a lot of powerful and successful white people, including Rich Kleiman, who is your manager and co-founder and business partner in Thirty Five Ventures. What have your conversations been like with Kleiman and others since Floyd’s death?

These conversations have been always flowing in our circles. How can we advance where we come from, which is predominately black? The people I have been in contact with and the partners I work with are all aligned with the vision that I have. We have these open conversations about the lack of resources in these neighborhoods. The lack of conversations that they get. Caring about educational systems. Police brutality.

We have these conversations over and over again on how we can improve these things. To have that platform and to have the resources … those conversations are long. Especially, when you see the Trayvon Martins, the Philando Castiles, the names can go on. Alton Sterling. Eric Garner. Sandra Bland. There are so many of these situations that have happened. We are thinking about all these different kind of ways we can help. These conversations will always be flowing. It may not be out in public. I may not have broadcasted it. But these conversations have always been flowing.

Is it important that white people of influence and power speak up?

It’s important that they get educated in the history of black people and where we come from. Understand the plight of black people and what it is like living black in America. There are situations you can go back and study on and understand. Just get educated. I tell a lot of people that, ‘Once you know where you are from you can move a little different here in the world.’ To really and truly understand us, you have to do your history on where we come from.

Can you talk about your involvement in the racial justice programs? (Durant has been involved with the Center for Policing Equity, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Silicon Valley Debug, Open Societies Institute-Baltimore Justice Fund and the Inner Harbor Project.)

A lot of change needs to happen in our world. I have a platform playing in the NBA. With so many people knowing who we are, we can use that to help and give back. It’s as simple as that. We come from these neighborhoods where we see a lot of people run into a lot of obstacles and distractions. There’s a lot of stuff holding us back coming out of these neighborhoods and making it to the level that we made it to as far as profession.

Meeting some of these [successful] people and going across the world and seeing different things, you want to take it back to your neighborhood. A lot of these programs that we partner with have done such a great job of being there every single day to help with these communities. It starts from the ground up. And for things that we want to do, we just partner with them and support. There is always enough for everyone if we come together. It’s about being passionate about what you see in your neighborhood and try to change it. You start to gain more resources and knowledge. It’s an evolution as things continue to grow and try to help more people around the world.

How are you doing after contracting COVID-19 and how is your health now?

I feel good. I didn’t have any symptoms so I am good. I couldn’t leave the house. I knew things would change. The unknown was definitely difficult to deal with. But other than that, I was great.

Do you remember your emotions when you got the positive COVID-19 test result?

I was shocked. And then I was curious. I wanted to know what it meant. What is the virus about? I started to get information about it more and more. It calmed me down. … I was just more curious to what I was dealing with and how I could fight it myself.

How heavily involved has your foundation been in COVID-19 relief efforts?

My mom and my foundation did an event last week at Bishop McNamara High School in District Heights, Maryland. We fed about 100 families. We fed some families in New York as well. We helped with a couple of businesses in Brooklyn as well. We’re trying to do our part somehow, some way. But I didn’t want to tell you that. I just wanted to do stuff and not say much about it. But the city I play in now and towns I’ve lived in, we’re trying to see what we can do to help.

Can you talk about teaming up with Degree to help 100,000 kids by donating $1 million to keep recreational centers and sports programs open in underserved communities across America during the pandemic and afterward?

Growing up in a rec center and knowing its value, I definitely want to give back into the community. Our partners do a great job of aligning with what we want to do in the community. The partnership with Degree has been cool so far. It’s most going to impact the cities that I play in. New York-area, Austin, D.C., and I want to say Oakland and San Francisco. I have to get more info on the cities, but mostly the cities I’ve been involved with as a basketball player.

How painful has it been to see the nation and world hit so hard from the pandemic?

It’s just so confusing. It’s just so all of the sudden. It’s hard to explain with how fast everything and how we had to quarantine in our homes. It made us all adapt. Going forward, things will change and we will adapt. It’s a weird time. It’s hard to explain to anybody. It’s still hard to explain.

You’re starting to see sports starting to come back differently. They’re going to the bubble. No fans in the stands. It’s a new normal. It’s a confusing time for everybody.

What do you think about the NBA’s decision to come back with 22 teams, including your Nets in a pandemic world under a Disney World bubble?

I just don’t know what to feel, how it will look or what it is going to be like. I’m interested to see what happens going forward because we have months to go. But I’m looking forward to seeing how they finish this thing out. We have such smart leadership with the NBA. They will make sure that everyone is safe in Orlando, and that the basketball played is top of the line.

The amenities that we have will be top of the line. I got all trust in the NBA that things will be fine. I’m just looking forward to how our league will look in a COVID-19 world.

On June 11, you will be a year removed from tearing your Achilles’ tendon. Does that date mean anything to you?

No. … It happened. I moved on. I understand going forward that I am playing in a different space right now. I appreciate every experience that I’ve gone through in the league, good and bad. So, I moved on. I don’t look at it as one of those things I look back on and remember. I just moved forward and get ready for the next season.

Where are you in your rehab process?

I’m doing well. Working out every day. I’m moving. I’m feeling like a normal player again. I’m just in my summertime routine. I’m working out every day and going to the gym in the morning. So, I feel good.

Do you plan to play for the Nets in Orlando or is your season over?

My season is over. I don’t plan on playing at all. We decided last summer when it first happened that I was just going to wait until the following season. I had no plans of playing at all this season.

Do you have any urges to play? Is waiting best for your process?

It’s just best for me to wait. I don’t think I’m ready to play that type of intensity right now in the next month. It gives me more time to get ready for next season and the rest of my career.

What do you miss most about the game right now?

I miss the locker room. I miss preparing for games. My teammates. I’m looking forward to playing in front of the Barclays [Center] crowd for the first time. I miss the locker room a lot and that camaraderie.

You missed serious time with the Oklahoma City Thunder due to a foot injury. Did your previous injuries play a role in your decision not to return to action this season?

I had to reset and totally focus on just me and what I wanted out of this thing. For the first time I felt like I was in my own space rehabbing. I didn’t feel like I had to be a part of the team and travel with the team and do everything like I was playing. I could really take my time and focus on myself each and every day.

I didn’t feel rushed at all. That was a great space to be in. I was putting pressure on myself in previous injuries wanting to hurry up and come back. I saw my teammates having fun and wanted to be out there. This time I felt like I was more patient throughout the process mentally and not rushing myself mentally. Not get too excited when my team plays well or I have a good [rehab] day. I’m taking things second by second and I’m trying to look out for what is best long-term.

Is that an age and maturity move?

Most definitely. I feel like that maturity experiencing different injuries and going through the rehab process. Coming back to play a little too early a few times. Getting calf strains and hamstring strains. I felt like at OKC, I came back and I felt like I could’ve waited another week or two and I strained something else.

But all in all, I feel like going through those times prepared me for now. I understand that this injury is going to take longer than others. I just got to be more patient. Lord knows I want to go out there and play. But I just have to make sure everything is right with my body to be the best version of myself.

Do you plan on joining the Nets in Orlando in July or continuing to rehabilitate in Los Angeles?

That is a decision we are still making. I still got some time to make it. As of right now, I am enjoying the routine I am on.

Have you got to know interim Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn at all? Thoughts on the Nets coaching situation?

Obviously, Jacque has been there the whole season. [General manager] Sean [Marks] and those decisions on [former head coach] Kenny [Atkinson] … we’re going to see how the season plays out. Before the pandemic, guys were playing well. I’m looking forward to seeing how we pick up and what we do finishing the season out.

What role do you think the NBA will have in talking about racial injustice and police brutality when the season returns?

Everybody around the world, every big corporation is stepping up to say, “Look we are going to start having these conversations more in-depth now than before.” The NBA has always been in the forefront of social issues and supporting their players. It’s something all the players in the league are talking about. I see a lot of owners and GMs stepping up to the plate.

Obviously, players are stepping up making it a conversation whether it’s powerful and peaceful protests in their cities, organizing things, programs and pouring back into their communities. They’re using their platforms to tell stories. The state of the world is an evolving conversation that is everflowing. It is moving in the right direction. This is all we wanted is to see justice for George Floyd and others wrongfully done by the police. But also have a conversation shaping hearts and minds about black people in general. The conversation is moving in a direction of hopefully seeing change.

You’re definitely more than just a basketball player being involved in the tech world, media world, other businesses and giving back. Why is that important to you?

Being in the NBA and traveling all around the world, your interests grow. There are a lot of resources that can help you off the court. There are a lot of things I’ve been interested from the tech world, philanthropy and in the game of basketball and out of the game telling stories. Just putting these ideas in motion has been vital to me since we’ve been doing it. We try to execute. If we want to shoot a doc about PG [Prince George’s] County we try to put that together and do things the right way. In tech, I learned more about that from being in Silicon Valley the past three years. … I’ve been just trying to build things I love to do and tell authentic stories about what I love, which is black culture in general. Hopefully, we will continue to keep building and something that eventually my nephew, nieces and kids can eventually work for and take over one day.

What will it mean to be in a Nets uniform playing a game again?

It will mean a lot. I’m excited. I can’t wait to play the game again and be out there with my new team working for a goal that we all want to accomplish. Learning from my experiences, my thought process on the experiences overall and my advice and knowledge from being an NBA player, I’m just looking forward to it all. The new challenge of ahead of me is what I’m excited about.

What is Brooklyn like?

It’s a city with a lot of energy and culture. It’s fresh in basketball space because Barclays has only been around six or seven years now. I feel like it’s new energy. They’re looking for something to latch onto. We are one of the first teams in Nets history where before we touch the floor that fans are expecting us to do good things. I’m excited about the expectations they put on us. I’m excited to play hard for them. In that city, the basketball culture is deep there and they’re looking for a team to latch on to. I’m excited.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.