- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. Look at the picture of Kevin Durant at the top of this page. The world in his hands. Start the word count.
Scoop Jackson: What's the difference between this time in your life last season, and right now?
Kevin Durant: Basketball is different. My mindset is different. It's more fun. I just enjoy it more. If you ask anyone else in the league, they'll tell you that. My life is all basketball right now. That's all I'm centered around, so that's going to affect me. The difference in winning and losing, you know, is big to me.
Jackson: Many people said last season's All-Star break was like your personal coming-out party. Dropping 47 in the Rookie Challenge, winning the H-O-R-S-E competition, etc. To me, that was your message to all of us that you were supposed to play on Sunday instead of Saturday.
Durant: Not really. I always felt that I had to prove myself. And that comes with how our team works, how much your team gets better. I don't think that rookie game meant that much as far as helping me to play in the actual All-Star game this Sunday. I looked at it as, in order for me to prove myself, I have to continue to do that each year. Because a lot of people don't know who we are as a team. They might not know who I am as a player. So I just try to continue to prove myself. The only thing I can control is how hard I work and how I help this team work. Everything else will take care of itself.
Jackson: How are you able to separate what you've been able to do individually and what you've been able to accomplish in a team situation this season? Like, your going to the All-Star Game is an individual accolade, yet you understand that you probably wouldn't be going if it weren't for the squad you have and the fact that you all are winning. How do you separate the two in your mind?
Durant: It's kind of like you just said, I know without my teammates I wouldn't be there. Once I put on that jersey -- and long as I have an OKC logo on the back [of the warm-up] -- that is going to allow me to believe that without them, I wouldn't be here. I always have to thank them for helping me get here, you know. Help me become the player I am, always encouraging me, always pushing me to get better. Because without that, none of this stuff would even be happening.
This is exactly the way it was supposed to happen for him. It's not necessarily the way he planned it, but he'll be the first to tell you he isn't mad at how it fell into place.
We're speaking two days before he gets on the plane to take him back home. Not his birth home; back to his home where you first discovered him. Texas.
Last season, he took it upon himself to introduce himself to all of us who might have forgotten. Or who just thought (as I did) that he would fall into NBA obscurity when the franchise moved from Seattle to OKC.
On Tuesday night against the Trail Blazers in Portland, he dropped 33 points -- the 25th time in succession he's scored 25 or more. Only two other players in the game over the past 30 years have done that: Iverson and Mike (who did it twice). Durant has more 30-point games than anyone in the league this half of the season. The word he used for this, if you remember, was fun.
Jackson: You said earlier that it's been "fun," but has it been harder?
Durant: Every day is a grind in this league, as you know. You might be tired, but you still gotta bring it every day. Especially when you are a young team like us, struggling to win every game, fighting for position
Jackson: But is it harder than last season, is what I'm asking? To me, the difference in last season and now is that you all know you can win ballgames, that you are supposed to win ballgames. So I'm trying to find out if the pressure of winning and the expectation of winning have made it harder?
Durant: Yeah. But we don't believe in pressure. We know that if we come out and play hard, work hard on off days and in practice, whatever happens from that we can live with. That's how we look at it. Look, we rarely blow teams out, so every time we step on the floor, for us, it's a grind.
Jackson: From your standpoint, without acknowledging the obvious, how do you think this season's All-Star Weekend is going to be different for you than last season's?
Durant: I'm going to have a lot more obligations! (laugh) A lot more than I had as a rookie All-Star. I've got a lot more things to do off the court. It should be fun. I'm looking forward to it. Plus, the mindset of me playing in that Sunday game in front of almost 100,000 people is going to be crazy. Especially back in Texas.
Jackson: That's what I wanted to ask you: Do you feel like this is a homecoming for you? [Durant played his one-and-"all-world-status"-done season of college ball at the University of Texas.]
Durant: Most definitely, man! Austin, where I went to school, is right in between Dallas and San Antonio, so all of these people who may have seen me play or knew about me from when I played there might be there. It's going to feel good running out there [on the court] in the state of Texas, knowing that I came back as an All-Star.
Jackson: Not saying that you're going to drop another 47 or take over the game, but are you going into this with the same mindset as you did last season in the rookie game?
Durant: Yeah, I am. If I get enough [playing] time. (laugh)
Jackson: So this isn't going to be one of those "I'm just happy to be here" moments for you? You are really going out there to serve notice?
Durant: I don't want to be that guy I'm going to be happy that I'm there, but I'm going into this All-Star Game with the same mindset as I do every game I play: Always be aggressive, always come out playing hard. That's the kind of competitor that I am. I just want to, you know, come out there and try to show the other guys out there that I belong.
No longer, "Next." This is now the tipping point in Kevin Durant's basketball life. What you see in his hands in that photo is his world. Ball is what he does. This is the moment Mr. Gladwell warned us about.
Stop counting now. His picture is worth more than 1,000 words. And after Sunday, it will look different. He will be different. He belongs.
The next picture you see of him, know that a whole 'nother story is about to be told.
We'll begin at one.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.
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