Durant An Ambassador For WNBA Game
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Thunder forward Kevin Durant kind of chuckled when he said it. Almost sounding out of place, his team eliminated from the NBA Playoffs earlier than expected, Durant said he had nothing else to do on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-May.
So why not take in a Minnesota Lynx preseason game at Target Center?
The answer, of course, is multi-layered. Fellow Olympian and Gold Medal winner Maya Moore called Durant a “basketball junkie,” someone who can’t stay away from the game even during his precious few offseason weeks before training reconvenes. Since Lynx guard Monica Wright is a close friend he met while in high school—both were McDonald’s All-Americas in 2006—Durant was in town catching Tuesday’s game sitting courtside near center court.
And on top of all that, Durant has a deep appreciation for the women’s game. As the league continues to gain popularity yet still strives to reach the “average fan, the ESPN guy” as Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve put it, Durant is a regular at women’s college basketball and WNBA games when time permits acting in some ways as an unofficial ambassador for the game.
“I appreciate how hard they play,” Durant said. “It’s really unfortunate they don’t get the credit they deserve. Hopefully everyone comes out and follow.”
He was certainly a celebrated guest on Tuesday.
Durant signed autographs and received an in-house welcome on the center court big screen during the first half. He received attention on March 31 while visiting the Louisville women’s basketball team’s locker room after beating top-seeded Baylor in their regional semifinal in Oklahoma City. Growing up, he's long been a patron at Mystics games in his native Washington, D.C. area.
Reeve said she appreciates Durant’s interest in women’s basketball.
“We’re going to need somebody like Kevin Durant who’s going to put his stamp of approval to legitimize who we are,” Reeve said. “I think he’ll go a long way toward that, and I think it’s very genuine. I appreciate the heck out of him.”
Durant not only got to watch Wright play on Tuesday, but he also got to sit courtside while three of his Olympic women’s basketball counterparts started for the Lynx. Durant briefly got to know Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus through their time together in London last summer, both through practicing together in Manchester and through attending each other’s games. Both the men’s and women’s teams supported each other at the Olympics as much as they could by attending one another’s contests.
“Now that we’ve had that experience, we’d like to support each other even more,” Moore said.
Wright said Durant is the type of player she tries to be like, and with good reason. Durant is a three-time NBA scoring champion who averaged 30.8 points per game in the postseason this year. His Thunder went to at least the Western Conference Finals in each of the past two years, losing to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals last year.
But she knows him well off the court, too. That’s why when Durant immediately donated $1 million to help aid and support recovery after a tornado devastated Oklahoma and parts of the Midwest on Monday, Wright wasn’t surprised.
“He’s got a heart of gold, and anytime this happens he’s the first one who wants to help,” Wright said. “He’s really a compassionate guy.”
He was in Minnesota when the storm hit, and on Wednesday he said he planned to head back to Oklahoma to visit children in hospitals and give some hope. Before leaving, Durant did get to see his high school friend score nine points and add four assists in an 88-80 preseason loss to the Connecticut Sun.
As for the Lynx themselves, Durant said he can tell they’ve got an opportunity to have another special season.
“They’re a championship-caliber team,” Durant said. “Once you get that experience under your belt, you get getter from there. They have basically their whole team back, and they added some players. So I’m excited to see them play this year.”
Moore said it’s great having an elite player showing support for the Lynx and the WNBA.
“He’s somebody who I think people pay attention to because he’s one of the most exciting players to watch in the world,” Moore said. “And when one of the most exciting players to watch in the world likes to watch you play, it’s pretty cool.”
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