Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose give the NBA a Humble Facelift

One's the scoring champ; the other is the league's MVP. Both have their young teams in respective conference finals. Both are also humble as mom's apple pie. Sure, the perennial power Lakers, Spurs, and Celtics were sent deep sea fishing for the remainder of the summer. And sure we won't see the Lebron v. Kobe finals we've been itching at like a mosquito bite for half a decade.

But, what we do have in the final four teams remaining are Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose, whose play is nothing short of electrifying. It feels like these two have been in the league forever, like they've been to dozens of All-Star games and won a multitude of accolades. But, each are only 22 years old.

When it's become the popular scapegoat to blame younger generation's Laissez-faire attitude for older generation's vast number of mistakes, it's nice to see guys in their early 20's setting the example. Our elders who believe youth is synonymous with immaturity are being proved wrong with every bounce of the basketball. The boomers who preach the back-in-my day mentality as if they really walked five miles to school in a Southern California blizzard are being served a facial by two of the NBA's most gracious players.

Durant and Rose prove every time they step onto the court that age truly is just a number, that people should be judged by strength of character rather than the number of candles on their birthday cake. Having said that, at the end of the day they are just a couple of kids. (Because anyone born after U2 released Joshua Tree still is). All these "kids" do is exemplify hard work and humbleness. It's fitting that both could be heading straight for each other in the NBA finals. Durant and Rose have been through a lot in their young careers.

Kevin Durant was drafted by the once upon a time Seattle Supersonics to replace a legend and all-time three-point leader Ray Allen. There were questions about his pixie stick frame and single year at Texas.

Would his game translate to the NBA?

Would he be strong enough to battle with NBA's fiercest defenders, the guys that have boulders for shoulders and steel beams for necks?

Durant made his slender frame an advantage, sneaking through the baseline like he was wearing Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. Even recently, Durant's been criticized for passing too much, letting his point guard ultra talented in his own right Russell Westbrook take pivotal shots in the fourth quarter. Durant threw that criticism in his stylish book bag he wears at every press conference, taking the detractors to school with every Thunder victory.

The road for Derrick Rose started bumpier. Rose came from the rough neighborhoods of the Englewood area, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods on Chicago's Southside. His entourage was his three brothers and mother, shielding him from con-men, drug-pushers, and all others looking to exploit Rose for his gifted talents on the hardwood. 

Rose enrolled in Simeon Career Academy. His junior year he won his school the Chicago public team championship and was voted the title of Illinois Mr. Basketball. Then there was the one season at Memphis, the SAT scandal and a shot away from winning the National Championship. Then came the pressure of being the first pick in the NBA draft. All he's done this year is lead the Bulls to the number one seed and the Eastern Conference finals.

Durant's and Rose's dominance in the spring of their careers is nothing short of astonishing. The desire to give their teammates credit and push personal accolades aside is remarkable. The scary thing for their opposition is- they are still getting better, at the base of a mountain's peak potential. Scarier still is their work ethic and unilateral focus. Durant could have left Oklahoma City for more money but he signed a five-year extension, a hometown discount; only he's from Washington, D.C.

Rose grew up in the shadow of Jordan. But, he puts number 23 in his rear view, while breathing and playing through life's windshield.

We have new stars that care more about giving than receiving, players who realize at a young age that every NBA player has talent, it's the work that transcends you. They know putting the hours in the empty gymnasium is how you perform at the highest level when the stadium is packed.

Rose's MVP speech was about thanking everyone else for an individual award, praising his teammates, being grateful for his mother. His smile one of appreciation, but also knowing his quest doesn't end with hoisting Maurice Podoloff over his shoulders. Rose and Durant see the big picture when the long term goal in a 48 minute game can be a difficult thing to focus in on. Just look at Lebron James, kneeling in prayer, and then celebrating with teammates like he won the first of seven NBA championships after knocking off his arch rivals, The Boston Celtics.

Was Rose even on the same Richter scale of jubilation after a second round win against the Hawks?

Derrick's actions were simple and clear: It's on to the next round, the next battle, the next fight. If Durant and Rose do meet in the NBA finals, it will be a series of high caliber talent, but higher caliber of character.

Resolve is their best teammate, humbleness their greatest strength. Durant and Rose wipe off crumbs of criticism with a dinner napkin. No stage is too big for these two young superstars.

Michael Jordan was everything, but anything other than humble. Kobe Bryant is the fiercest competitor, but rarely trusts a teammate. Lebron has embraced his role as the villain since taking his talents to South Beach. Rose and Durant appear to truly believe their personal success is measured only by team success. That their accomplishments are made possible by the work of their supporting cast, coaches, management, and family.

Commissioner David Stern need not worry. The NBA is in good hands.

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