Christmas: Another day to play
NBA rookie Kevin Durant will be on the court and on national TV, not hanging out at home.
SEATTLE - Kevin Durant used to be able to sit around with his family and watch movies on Christmas.
It was the one day in the middle of hoops season that he didn't have any practices, shoot-arounds, pregame scouting sessions or team meals to attend. Even last year as a freshman at Texas, Durant was able to return home for Christmas and sit on his family's couch.
"We rarely got to hang out a lot because my mom worked, and me and my brother went to school, then played ball, had practice and stuff like that," Durant said. "We just hung out."
Those times of lounging around on Christmas Day are over for the 19-year-old, who is still very much a kid. The SuperSonics star will be the focus of tonight's nationally televised matchup between Seattle and the streaking Portland Trail Blazers, winners of 10 straight.
When the NBA announced its three-game Christmas Day schedule, the nightcap in Portland was to be a showcase of the top two picks in last June's draft - No. 1 selection Greg Oden and Durant, the No. 2 pick. That high-profile meeting was dashed when Oden was sidelined for the season with a knee injury, leaving the big stage to Durant.
"It's kind of an honor," Durant said. "Christmas is a big day, it's a very big day. To choose a team like us to play on Christmas Day I think is an honor."
Still a teenager, Durant has taken on the responsibility of being the Sonics' on-the-floor leader just 27 games into his NBA career, living up to the lofty expectations that came with his arrival in the league.
He is averaging a rookie-best 19.9 points, and has been Seattle's leading scorer 13 times. He'd never lost more than a handful of games at any level of basketball, but has handled Seattle's 8-19 record with proper perspective of the Sonics being a young team building around him for the future.
Like most rookies, Durant struggles to get calls afforded the veteran stars of the league, but the adjustment from dominating the college game in his one year at Texas to the rigors of the NBA has appeared fluid.
"What's impressive is the way he manages the successes, how he responds to the adversities he faces," Seattle general manager Sam Presti said. "We're obviously extremely pleased with his approach to the game and his willingness to learn and compete."
Off the floor, Durant is rarely seen without a grin on his youthful face. He openly invites neighborhood kids in his affluent Seattle suburb over to play video games in the house he rents with his mother.
Recently, after returning from a long road trip, Durant got home around 2 a.m. Shortly thereafter, two teenagers knocked on his door asking if they could come in and play video games.
It's about the only time Durant has turned anyone away.
"Kevin's personality and respect for the opportunity to play in the NBA is a tremendous quality," Presti said.
Durant understands his role as the face of a franchise desperate for any goodwill with a community stung by owner Clay Bennett's intentions to move the franchise from Seattle to Oklahoma City at the earliest possible opportunity.
Last week, Durant invited 26 kids from Seattle's First Place, a school that provides education and support services for families fighting homelessness, to a day out. Durant took the students on a shopping spree at Niketown in downtown Seattle, then treated them to dinner at a local restaurant.
"Some of them, they were very overwhelmed," First Place's Melissa Collett said. "They were very happy, [there were] a lot of very big smiles. A lot of the children were picking out gifts for their family members just in the spirit of generosity."
Durant hopped around to each kid, and was peppered with questions like, "Does this look good?" and "What do you think my mom would like?"
"I felt like a parent," Durant said. "I use to do the same thing with my mom and my brother and my father. It's something I cannot describe."
Durant wasn't sure when he'd celebrate the holiday - either on Christmas Eve, before the Sonics left for Portland, or late on Christmas night after the team returned. Either way, Durant's family was all going to be there with him.
"It's going to be even better," Durant said. "New city, new look, new life."