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Kevin Durant’s golden moment was built on years of hard work and competitive brilliance

From middle school onward, coaches saw that his approach to the game was different

I only played one year with Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City, but I could tell then he was going to be great. It was James Harden and Serge Ibaka’s rookie years and they had a young Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green – still a tragedy they couldn’t keep them together for a championship or two – but I remember seeing firsthand something from KD that I had never seen before.

It was after practice and KD had just had a rough shooting night the game before, so after practice, he had another workout on his own. He was going full Game 7-level intensity. Spinning the ball out to himself, and making moves to the basket, one-dribble pull-ups, two-dribble pull-ups, crossover to the dunk, crossover step-backs, spin to the dunk, nonstop for like an hour and a half straight at that pace. Coach Scott Brooks finally had to put an end to it and yelled, “That’s enough! Coaches, take the balls away, go home, KD.”

I had never seen a coach do that before, tell a player to stop practicing. That’s when I knew KD was going to be special, and in the Olympic gold-medal game, he proved that hard work definitely pays off.

On Saturday, every sportswriter and sports talk radio show will gush over the spectacular play of Kevin Durant and the U.S. Olympic team, but mainly over KD. They’ll talk about how KD saved the day by pouring in 29 points against France and avoiding a late-game scare to propel the U.S. team to victory.

Team USA celebrates following its victory over France in the men’s basketball finals on Day 15 of the 2020 Tokyo Games at Saitama Super Arena on Aug. 7 in Saitama, Japan.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

They’ll talk about his third gold medal to go with two NBA titles. They’ll talk about his three straight games scoring 23-plus points. They’ll talk about him being the first men’s Olympic basketball athlete to pass the 400-point mark.

They’ll talk about his amazing U.S. Olympics stats, which include Team USA’s all-time leader in points, free throws and 3-pointers, and two-time USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year.

What they may miss is the work he put in to get to this point. That work began in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and has continued throughout his career.

Here are coaches and players who have seen KD’s work ethic from an early age:

former coach at DeMatha, Mike Jones says:

“The first time I saw KD, he was going into his eighth grade year in Drew Freeman Middle School. He was a long, tall kid with big feet. He played so hard. It wasn’t 3-pointers but everything 15 feet and it looked so natural to him. I don’t think he missed from 15 feet and in. Talking to his coach after the game, all he talked about was how hard he worked and how much he wanted to get better no matter how many points he scored that game. He just wanted to get better. He was never satisfied. Following that, I remember peeking at him in rec centers and it was abundantly clear how much he loved the game and how hard he was working and putting himself through drills. And the word around was that he stayed in the gym. And that’s why he is what he is today.”

former NBA player and current Washington Wizards SCOUT Laron Profit says:

“One summer, I’m working for the Orlando Magic, and I take Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton out to UCLA to work out during the summer. So Oklahoma City is having a team thing out in LA. This was Billy Donovan’s first year. So they’re having a practice that starts at 11. We’re in the gym at 9 a.m., Russ and KD come in an hour and a half before they are scheduled to practice. And they are working out in the court next to us. They were working so hard. We stopped, and I told them to just take a seat and watch how hard they are working out.

“They were young players at the time, and I told them to ask themselves, am I working as hard as they are, and they already got everything that I want. All-NBA, been to the Finals, MVPs, gotten the big contracts, but their intensity was through the roof in a gym in the offseason in the summertime. And the thing that KD does that really reminds me of Kobe [Bryant] is, he dissects every part of his workout. He won’t move on to something else until he feels like he has done it exactly perfect.”

former NBA Player DeRmarr Johnson says:

“I would work out with him all the time in the summer. Me, KD and Jeff Green would go up to Run N Shoot and be in there for hours. He had his trainers traveling with him and everyone knew he was focused. He wasn’t into going out and partying and a bunch of girls or anything like that, he wanted to live in the gym. If he could sleep there, he would’ve just so he could get more workouts in. He was always just focused on getting better. And at the time, he was leading the NBA in scoring. But he still wanted to add new things to his game. Kind of Kobe-ish. He wanted to get better even when everyone was saying that he was one of the best scorers they had ever seen.”

oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti says:

“The thing that always impressed me about Kevin was that his wisdom about the work itself was so far advanced for his age when he first got started in the NBA in 2007. He seemed to understand that he may not see the immediate gratification from the time he put the work in that particular day, week, month or year, and he was at ease with that trade-off. To be honest, I love watching the personal journey he’s on. It’s really pure and not about symbolic goals, and the way I interpret it for my own learning is that it’s about answering the question of how good can someone be at something they love. It’s just an advanced approach to the patience he showed early on with the process of his own development. It’s pretty cool to see that the first principles are still there and perhaps some of the hours logged early on may just now be bearing fruit. He’s a craftsman, people should just sit back and watch what happens next for him. He’s running his own race and that’s something to take stock in and young people can definitely be inspired by.”

The recurring theme in each of these accounts is the hard work and dedication that KD has possessed from an early age. A lot of young aspiring athletes take the actual greatness of superstars like KD for granted because they don’t understand what it really takes to get to that level, they don’t see the behind the scenes. The long workouts, playing through pain, the criticism, getting knocked down and picking themselves back up, the mountains they had to climb to get to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – pun intended. They see KD draped in the flag, on the platform, bringing home the gold for the third time and all the accolades, but they need to understand that it took nothing but hard work, dedication and perseverance for him to get there.

Etan Thomas is a senior writer for basketballnews.com and is the host of a podcast called The Rematch. He also writes for The Guardian and has previously written for The Washington Post, Huffington Post, CNN, ESPN, Hoopshype.com and slamonline. He frequently can be seen on MSNBC as a special correspondent for “hot topics.” and co-hosts a weekly local radio show on WPFW 89.3FM, The Collision, where sports and politics collide.