Tag Archives: Charles Barkley

Much Ado About Dunking

OK, so this is a little bit late, but I’ve been busy. Anyways, here is a story about NBA All Star Weekend in Dallas a week and a half ago.

Scene 1: Before Saturday’s contest, at a massive hall in a Dallas hotel
Enter Nate Robinson, Shannon Brown, DeMar DeRozan, Gerald Wallace and a horde of media ready to probe as if they are trying to provoke the release of state secrets. There is no HERO in this story.

The grand banquet hall of the Dallas Hyatt Regency sits on the second floor of the downtown hotel.

Outside the room on this Friday, the day before the dunk contest, Stephen Curry talks to an autograph seeker who must have snuck past security. Media shuffle about. Rookies wearing their team warm-ups step on the escalator, descending downstairs, where there appears to be a photo shoot for a new Wolfgang Puck cook book. This doesn’t make sense at all. But cameras and those felt-covered lights surround an area that features a cover with Wolfgang Puck’s picture

Inside the hall, Magic Johnson finishes up a press conference. Chandeliers hanging from the ceiling provide light. Tables, at least 20, are situated about seven feet from each other throughout the room.

Nate Robinson leans back in a chair at one of these, the always-hungry New York media surrounding him with bright lights and massive cameras. He has won the dunk contest twice. No one has won it three times. He will have the opportunity to do so on Saturday night.

They want to ask him about the contest.

As a general rule, though, no one asks a productive question at a massive event such as the All-Star Game. More than 1,800 people have credentials here.

The list of names includes reporters from El Pais and L’Equipe. It includes someone who has a Maxim microphone, and it includes McLovin. Yes, really. I wanted to joke that Cat Fancy has three reporters, and Horse and Hound has another, but the reality of McLovin is funny enough.

This saturation leads to an environment of disorder and thus bad questions. And based on the Fox Sideline Reporter Law of Questioning, an athlete must respond to a cliché question with an equal and opposite unproductive answer.

This is apparent throughout the weekend, although, nothing brings out the FSR Law like the dunk contest.

Media: Nate, what do you want to achieve this weekend?

Robinson: I just want to have a natural dunk contest.

At least the environmentalists are smiling.

Shannon Brown sits across the room, diagonally from Robinson. He’ll go against Robinson in Saturday’s contest. Gerald Wallace, another contestant, sits two tables down from Brown.

I can’t recall seeing Wallace, even through a picture or a highlight, since the McDonald’s All-American game many years ago. His sight alarms me.

He has dread locks longer than Bob Marley. He looks and acts higher than Jim Breuer.

Upon hearing him talk, I realize he is as interesting as a tree stump. But to say he is as interesting as a tree stump wouldn’t quite capture his display of general detachment toward any topic. After all, tree stumps have those circles that help signify their age, which is actually kind of interesting.

Media: Gerald, how have you done in previous dunk contests?

Wallace: (gargling sound)

Media: Gerald, what do you have planned for Saturday night?

Wallace: (closes eyes)

Then, he speaks. It isn’t a complete sentence, only a run-on, but progress is progress, right?

He speaks of his goal in the contest.

Wallace: Try not to get hurt, try not to pull anything.

Scene 2: The confused, inner workings of my mind, used as a vehicle to hopefully portray everyone’s thoughts.
Enter: Memories

Thing is, I love dunk contests. Have since seventh grade. Back then, I didn’t really know anything about them. I had seen the Sportscenter highlights of Julius Erving leaping from the free throw line, and Michael Jordan leaping from the free throw line, and Brent Barry leaping from the free throw line.

The old tapes left me with a lingering thought: How exactly did Brent Barry win a dunk contest? But that uncertainty never led me to watch one.

Before classes started at Holy Spirit grade school, we would sit around the desks in our white uniform shirts and dark Dockers slacks and discuss the weekend, our distaste for our teacher, Mrs. McKinzie, or I don’t know, just talk about whatever seventh graders talk about.

On a Monday morning in February, a friend began talking about Vince Carter and the dunk contest from Saturday night. I, like most of the seventh grade class, had spent that evening at Chili Bingo.*

*The Cub Scouts put on Chili Bingo every year. It was the social event of a lifetime, along with the Pinewood Derby, for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. You ate Chili, and you attempted to talk with girls, and you played Blackout for a $100 reward, and you bought tickets for door prizes.

That seventh-grade year, I won a door prize. There were two choices left. I can’t remember the other one, but I decided to grab a video titled “Golf With Steve J.” Steve J, apparently, was so well-known that he didn’t even need to endorse his instructional videos with his surname.

This friend, Drew, didn’t go that night. He watched the dunk contest.

Drew spoke, admiringly, about Vince Carter and how he bounced the ball, grabbed it mid-air and brought it between his legs before dunking, all in one motion.

Someway or another, I think, I ended up seeing those highlights. I was amazed. Carter did the legs thing, and he stuck his full arm down the rim. He also twisted his body the opposite way most people would on his way to a 180 or something.

I wanted to watch dunk contests. All of them.

I watched David Lee, at the McDonald’s All-American game, bounce the ball, then take off his red jersey, then grab the ball and do a reverse slam to win that contest. I watched some sort of Kansas City high school all star showcase that probably no longer exists. Jeff Hawkins tried to dunk in it. He didn’t do so well. Jamar Howard won, jumping over a few young children before doing a one-handed slam.

I watched those as often as I could, and I also watched the NCAA dunk contests. I bought this VHS tape called “Ball Above All.” Among other cool basketball moves, it featured a high-school-aged James White, who I still believe is the greatest dunker of all time.

And, of course, I watched the NBA dunk contests, starting in eighth grade.

I sat in our half-finished, always-cold basement and looked on as DeShawn Stevenson completed something called the “Off the Heezy for Sheezy” dunk; as Baron Davis cut eyeholes in his headband and pulled it down over his eyes for a dunk; as Desmond Mason jumped over a crouched Rashard Lewis in what was good enough for the victory.

Kenny Smith complained the whole time. He complained that they weren’t even “sweating.” Not sure how perspiration helps with the gripping of a ball, but you get the point. The dunk contest had lost its luster. That’s what everyone said, and they would continue saying it over the years.

The NBA started calling it the Rising Stars Dunk Contest for a while, thinking they could convince us that Fred Jones would become someone we might not confuse with Tom Jones. Players like Jonathan Bender and Corey Magette competed. Vince Carter would never return, nor would Tracy McGrady or Kobe Bryant.

I didn’t care. I enjoyed that 2001 dunk contest, and I continued to watch them in high school and college.

I remember the infamous dunk wheel. I remember Andre Igoudala completing the greatest dunk of all time, where he jumped from behind the goal, and then e-mailing one of my NBA-loving professors the next day just to talk about it.

The contestants always smiled and laughed. They wore Superman suits and they blew out candles on frosted cupcakes.

Celebrities like Usher and Puff Daddy watched from courtside, mere mortals as giddy as anyone watching from home. They watched the same way we all did.

I knew I would never be able to dunk. Even if I lowered our driveway basketball goal to 7 ½ feet and used a miniature ball, I couldn’t do a 360 or even a 180.

These athletes could do it on regulation goals, and once a year they would put on a show so we could admire the creativity, the grace, the way they had to exercise caution to prevent their foreheads from banging into the rim when they floated up there.

We could watch an already impossible display of athleticism become fortified with tricks and showmanship when we watched them. That’s why I loved dunk contests.

Scene 3: Saturday’s contest, at the American Airlines Center
Enter the valiant contestants, Craig Sager’s screaming suit and unfortunate Cheryl Miller.

Wolf* Blitzer walks down the aisle of American Airlines Center and takes a courtside seat in the third row. Darryl Dawkins, in a suit ostentatious by everyone’s standards except for Craig Sager, sits next to Dominique Wilkins and Robert Horry, looking very Fresh Prince-esque, in the first row on the court, diagonally in front of Blitzer. Spike Lee has a courtside seat across the floor from them.

*Who would have thought? A blog post that includes two people named after Wolves.

Saturday is officially here. Dunk contest night. This is about star-studded glitz, through your-legs-flash, off the heezy for sheezy power.

Let’s have Gerald Wallace explain to Cheryl Miller and the whole arena the exact superlatives that this contest is about.

Miller (talking to Wallace at halfcourt on the loudspeaker): How much creativity will it take to get by Robinson?

Wallace: I don’t know.

Yep, that’s how it all starts on Saturday night. Gerald Wallace, looking like he just stumbled off the set of Half-Baked, says his first complete sentence of the weekend.

You might guess that now the crowd is ready to erupt. NBA dunk contest excitement, after all, had already reared its head a month earlier courtesy of Robinson and LeBron.

Robinson, the two-time winner and former “rising” star like Fred Jones, told New York media that he didn’t want compete. He would compete, though, because he had had to.* He certainly didn’t desire the championship, and he said this.

*Someone later explained to Robinson that this was not the case. He did not HAVE to compete. At this point, though, he had already committed.

LeBron, apparently, didn’t either. Captivated by Dwight Howard and Robinson in 2009, he made an on-air promise to Miller that he would compete in the Dallas 2010 contest. The NBA’s greatest theater would again have its King, the great James.

When January rolled around and the NBA asked for a commitment…uh, not so much.

LeBron’s spurn left the league in a predicament. It needed a fourth dunker. But we all know how the NBA reacts to predicaments. It creates the Dunk-In, a wonderful televised event for “rising” stars to introduce themselves.

DeMar DeRozan wins this over Eric Gordon and says he hasn’t lost a dunk contest since the ninth grade, a Roman-Empire-grand period of domination that has lasted all of five years.

So there you have it. Saturday’s storylines: Will DeRozan preserve his Ripken-esque streak, will Nate Robinson have to accept the inconvenience of winning another contest, will Shannon Brown show off his “rising” star-ness, will Gerald Wallace do his best Gerald Green impression and place a weed brownie on the rim so he can blow out the candle?

DeRozan is the first contestant to dunk, the first one with the opportunity to build on the fervor started by Wallace’s announcement.

He completes a been-there-done-that reverse, going through his legs after jumping from under the goal. He scores a 42, and the on-court announcer says DeRozan is setting the tone. Oh my.

Next up is Shannon Brown. Brown actually seems like he wouldn’t rather be spending his millions of dollars on one of the strippers that were flown into Dallas solely for this All Star Weekend. He got into the dunk contest because of fans. They started a Web site, LetShannonDunk.com, petitioning for his spot.

His story line actually is interesting. Like Jason Richardson or Desmond Mason in the past, he really has the opportunity to spice up a contest that on paper looks like a dud.

Brown fails on a running dunk from midcourt. Then he jumps, and in mid-air switches from his right hand to his left hand for a dunk. Uh-oh.

Wallace is now up. Uh-oh, indeed. He performs a standard reverse dunk. Repeat. He performs a standard reverse dunk.

On-court announcer: Wallace, with the old-school!

Time for Robinson, time for Krypto-Nate, time for the one of the smallest, most creative dunkers we’ve seen. He gulps energy gel on the court. OK, this looks promising. Then he begins his run to the hoop and completes an average two-handed dunk off the bounce.

It may just have been a coincidence but the arena’s giant TV screen shows Spike Lee. He’s covering his eyes.

I look over at Blitzer. He’s tinkering with his phone.

We know what happens after this. DeRozan finishes a nifty, 50 dunk after taking a pass from the side of the backboard, but the pass, from Sonny Weems, seems more remarkable. Brown fails again. Wallace decides to go even more old school and shoots a jump shot on his next turn. Robinson wins because he asks Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders to stand next to him on the court for seven seconds.

Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, I can only guess, must be ravenous with disgust. Blogs and columns will be all over this. Where’s Vince Carter? Where’s Kobe? The dunk contest is dead, again.

But there is progress. This dunk contest isn’t all about nothing. In the media room afterwards, with Robinson sitting next to his trophy, the Fox Sideline Reporter Law of Questioning is finally broken.

Media: Nate, are you going to try and go for a fourth title.

Robinson: No, no, no. I can’t bear that anymore.

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The Pistol, Durant and basketball memories

So in most aspects of my life, I am very reluctant to spend money. I’m not necessarily cheap — for instance, when I do spend money, I seem to have pretty expensive tastes — but I guess I’m just not that into buying, well, stuff…

There are a couple of exceptions. And these include airports and gas stations.

Of course, these places seem to have one thing in common: I’m usually only at an airport or gas station when I’m traveling.

Perhaps this will sound strange, but when I go to an airport, or when I stop at a gas station on a road trip, I have to buy something.

It might be a magazine, or a bag of Doritos, or a Quik-Stop cappuccino. But I have to buy something. I just have to.

This phenomenon surfaced a couple of weeks ago when I was flying back to Kansas City after visiting my brother in Washington D.C.

I was flying out of Reagan airport, and there happened to be a Borders bookstore in the airport. Now this was a real treat. Usually, of course, there is one of those small magazine stands, and maybe it has a small rack of books — you know, the latest Danielle Steele and Dan Brown novels.

But this airport had an entire Borders, or at the very least, an “airport-sized version of a Borders”.

I had just finished reading “The Blind Side” a couple of days before, so I peaked around the store, looking for something interesting to read on the flight home.

I ended up settling on “Pistol”, Mark Kriegel’s brilliant biography on Pete Maravich*.

*The book came out a few years back, and I now remember that another Maravich biography, called “Maravich”, came out at about the same time. Yep, two biographies on Pete Maravich in the same year. I guess that’s kind of like the time the two volcano movies — “Volcano” and “Dante’s Peak” — came out at the same time, or the time “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact” came out in the same summer.

Anyway, it took me about three weeks to slog through “Pistol” — it was essentially a father-son tale about the relationship between Pete and his father Press.

It detailed Press’s upbringing underneath the clouds of smog spewed by the mills of Pennsylvania. It detailed Pete’s career at LSU, when he averaged more than 40 points per game for three straight seasons. And it detailed Pete’s fall into alcoholism and depression.

It’s a great book, poetic and rhythmic, and it’s exquisitely researched.
I knew Pete Maravich’s basic story. I remembering watching a movie about Pete Maravich (a movie that came out in the late 1980s) when I was a young kid. And I knew some of the drills that Maravich made famous.

But perhaps people forget — especially people under the age of 40 — about Maravich’s greatness*.

*Pat Conroy isn’t one of those people. Conroy, as you probably know, is the best-selling author of the timeless book, “The Great Santini”. He also played basketball at The Citadel during Maravich’s era — and he would eventually write a best-selling memoir about his time at The Citadel entitled, “My Losing Season”.

“I grew up possessed by the legend of ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich,” Conroy once wrote. “I’ve marveled at the supernatural skills of Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Jerry West, Kobe Bryant—all of them were greater basketball players than the ‘Pistol’. Yet none of them could touch the magical, otherworldly qualities he brought to the court, the genius and wizardry and breathtaking creativity. He could light up a crowd like a match set to gasoline. His game was lordly, inimitable and he should have been the greatest player to ever play the game.”

*****

There’s something about Conroy’s words that I can’t stop thinking about. Something about the way Conroy viewed Maravich. Something about that fact that, 30 years after Maravich retired (and more than 40 years since he played in college), Conroy could still find joy in memories of Maravich. He could remember what it felt like to watch Pistol Pete, and those memories transported him to a different place.

I think this is one of the simplest and most concise explanations for why we love sports.

There’s something else in those words, too. You see, for a person that uses numbers to measure greatness, Maravich might as well be a saint. He was the kid who scored more points than anyone in NCAA history, the kid who averaged more than 44 points per game for a season… he was the Pistol.

But here’s the thing: For the people that saw Maravich play, the numbers were secondary. Instead, people remembered the moves, the artistry, the way he floated around a basketball floor.

There’s a great line from Bob Dylan (Kriegel uses it in the prologue of his book) about watching Maravich play.

“He was something to see,” Dylan said. “Mop of brown hair, floppy socks, the holy terror of the basketball world, high flyin’, magician of the court.

*****

So here’s the moment when I finally get to the point.

I think we may have found our Pistol.

He’s 21 years old… and he lives Oklahoma City… and he may be the most perfect offensive basketball player we’ve ever seen.

Of course, only time will tell.

But I do know this: I’ve seen some great basketball players play in person.

I saw Paul Pierce display his all-around versatility while playing at KU. I saw glimpses of Chauncey Billups’ competitive fire while he played at Colorado. I saw Ray Allen stroke the most gorgeous jumpshot I’ve ever seen. And I saw Derrick Rose nearly shoot down Kansas in the 2008 NCAA title game.

But I’ll say this with confidence: None of those guys could touch the sheer brilliance of Kevin Durant.

*****

Kevin Durant Memory No. 1

Sports memories are a funny thing. They flicker somewhere in the back of the brain, ready to be recalled, ready to be triggered by the senses.

But with each passing day, those memories become a little grainier. And, of course, you can’t replace a memory.

You can try — and perhaps you can go back and look at an old picture, or watch an old game — but then the memory is no longer pure. It’s simply a memory of a memory, a copy of the original, or something like that.

And here’s the thing: I don’t want to forget the first time I saw Kevin Durant play.

I remember it was a Saturday.* I remember Kansas was playing Texas at Allen Fieldhouse with the Big 12 regular-season title on the line.

*I think it was the first week of March, but I may be wrong. It might have been the last week of February. See what I mean?

If KU won, then Bill Self and Jayhawks earned the title outright. If Texas won, then both teams would share the crown.

I remember it was an afternoon game. And I had to wake up around 10. And I had to borrow a ticket from one of my roommates, who had decided he’d rather sleep in.

I remember walking to the Fieldhouse, and I remember watching Durant glide on to the basketball floor for warm-ups*.

*Durant is still skinny. I imagine he will stay relatively thin forever. But when he was a freshman in college — and barely 18 — he seemed to be all knees and wrists and elbows.

I remember the first half, when Durant poured in 25 points and seemed to barely ripple the net on every shot*.

*His line in that first half will go down as one of the best halves of basketball in the history of Fieldhouse. 25 points. 10-of-14 shooting from the field. Five of five from the three-point line.

I remember the hopeless feeling in the Fieldhouse at halftime*.

*This guy is ridiculous. There’s no way he’s not scoring 50. We’re toast.

I remember thinking this: Well, if KU is going to lose. I hope he does score 50. Hell, I hope he scores 60. Bring on history.

Of course, he wouldn’t score 50. He wouldn’t even score 40.

He would finish with 32 points. He would snatch nine rebounds. He would make six of eight three-pointers.

Of course, Kansas would rally in the second half. Mario Chalmers would hit five three-pointers and score 21 points — and Kansas would win 90-86, clinching the Big 12 title.

But I will always remember the moment in the second half when Kevin Durant went down.

He turned his ankle in the final minutes, after KU had started its massive run and appeared to have the game in control.

And as he limped off the floor, the KU fans slowly came to their feet. It was like watching a young colt break down on the backstretch of the Kentucky Derby. And the Fieldhouse crowd recognized this.

So they stood for him. And they clapped for him. They had too. He was that good.

Three years later, the memory of that Saturday is still clear.

And now, we have an entirely new perspective.

At least 10 players from that game will play at least one game in the NBA. It could be more.

Texas had Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin, Damion James and a young and overweight Dexter Pittman.

Kansas had Julian Wright, Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson and Sherron Collins.

Sasha Kaun could also play in the League someday. So could Russell Robinson.

And yet, on a court filled with future pros, Durant made them all look like end-of-the-bench scrubs.

“I thought for a minute in the first half (Kevin) Durant could get 60,” Bill Self would say.

“He’s the best I’ve ever faced in my life,” Rush would say, “He’s the best by far.”

*****

Kevin Durant Memory No. 2

The voice at the podium was familiar. Deep — yet scratchy and southern.

Questions were flying at Mike Anderson, the head basketball coach at Missouri, and he was answering them in his own soulful way.

It was the fall of 2007 — six months after Kevin Durant had left school early, and just three months after he had been selected second overall by the Seattle Supersonics in the NBA Draft.

Anderson was sitting in a full ballroom at the Plaza Marriot in Kansas City. The Big 12 basketball season was commencing with media day — and each Big 12 coach was taking his turn at the podium.

And somehow, Durant’s name kept coming up.

“Thank God he’s gone,” Anderson cried out. “Thank God.”

I’ll always remember the way Anderson said those words. Complete sincerity. Complete conviction. His eyes were opened wide. It was as if the memory of Durant had caused him to flashback to a nightmare.

Good lord, that kid could play. Don’t want ever see him again. Thank God.

That same day, somebody asked Kansas coach Bill Self how many points he thought Durant would average as an NBA rookie.

“This year?” Self asked, pausing a moment to think. “I’d say 17.”

Durant would average just a shade more than 20.

*****

These are just numbers, proof of what Kevin Durant is doing on a basketball court. We don’t need these to know Durant’s brilliance — but I think they help.

Kevin Durant has not turned 22 yet. He won’t until Sept. 29.

But here is what Kevin Durant is doing this season:

40.0 minutes / 29.8 points / 47.9 FG% / 37.6 3P% / 7.5 rebounds / 2.9 assists

The following is a list of players who have had comparable seasons before the age of 22.

1. Magic Johnson – 1980-81 (second year)
37.1 minutes / 21.6 points / 53.2 FG% / 17.6 3P% (3 for 17) / 8.6 rebounds / 8.6 assists

2. Michael Jordan – 1984-85 (rookie)
38.3 minutes / 28.2 points / 51.5 FG% / 17.3 3P% (9 for 52) / 6.5 rebounds / 5.9 assists

3. LeBron James – 2005-06 (3rd year)
42.5 minutes / 31.4 points / 48.0 FG% / 33.5 3P% / 7.0 rebounds / 6.6 assists

4. Carmelo Anthony – 2005-06 (3rd year)
36.8 minutes / 26.5 points / 48.1 FG% / 24.3 3P% / 4.9 rebounds / 2.7 assists

5. Tracy McGrady – 2000-01 (fourth year)
40.1 minutes / 26.8 points / 45.7 FG% / 35.5 3P% / 7.5 rebounds / 4.6 assists

And just for reference, here are the seasons of a few others…

6. Kobe Bryant 1999-00 (4th year)
38.2 minutes / 22.5 points / 46.8 FG% / 31.9 3P% / 6.3 rebounds / 4.9 assists

7. Dwight Howard – 2006-07 (third year)
36.9 minutes / 17.6 points / 60.3 FG% / n/a 3P% / 12.3 rebounds / 1.9 assists

8. Chris Bosh – 2005-06 (3rd year)
39.3 minutes / 22.5 points / 50.5 FG% / N/A 3P% / 9.2 rebounds / 2.6 assists

9. Chris Paul 2006-07 (second year)
36.8 minutes / 17.3 points / 43.7 FG% / 35.0 3P% / 4.4 rebounds / 8.9 assists

10. Allen Iverson – 1996-97 (rookie year)
40.1 minutes / 23.5 points / 41.6 FG% / 34.1 3P% / 4.1 rebounds / 7.5 assists

*****

The story on Kevin Durant has yet to be written.

And this makes him even more interesting. He is in that rare moment in an athlete’s career. For the most part, his slate is clean.

Some people write that he is the most underrated player in the NBA. Others write that he is the third best player in the league behind LeBron and Kobe. Others question his defense. Some question whether he will be able to lead a team to a championship*.

*He can score, yes, they say, but will his skill set lead to championships?

Portland Trail Blazers General Manager Kevin Pritchard no doubt asked the same question when he selected Greg Oden over Durant in the 2007 NBA Draft.

Durant will score, people said. But you win titles with big men, and Oden will win you titles.

Of course, people write and say many other things. And it is too early to know what Kevin Durant will be.

“Kevin Durant is a more athletic Danny Manning,” Jay Bilas once said.

“He is kind of a cross between George Gervin and Bob McAdoo,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar once said.

So many comparisons, so many new expectations. People no longer wonder whether he’ll have a better career than Durant. Perhaps it’s premature — perhaps Oden’s young career will have a renaissance — but nowadays, people ask different questions. Some of those questions even involve a man named — gasp! — LeBron.

And yet, you can ask Nick Collison, the former Kansas great who has played with Durant for nearly three seasons, and he’ll tell you that Durant can rise above it all. He won’t be swallowed by the hype.

“There’s nothing fake about Kevin; he is who he is,” Collison told Sports Illustrated last month. “It’s kind of refreshing, someone with that much talent and ability, a guy who’s been on the cover of magazines since he was 18, but all he wants to do is play basketball and hang out. He’s not trying to rule the world or become a global marketing icon—he just wants to play ball.”

Yes, we’ve found our modern day Pistol.

He’s not a physical specimen like LeBron. And unlike King James, he doesn’t want to build an empire.

He’s not built like Kobe — so we’ll be spared from comparisons to Jordan. He’s not moody like Kobe either.

He’s still young. Still acts like a kid. Still watches cartoons. And still sends out funny tweets.

A few weeks ago, he participated in the NBA’s HORSE competition during All-Star weekend. Boston’s Rajon Rondo was in it. So was Sacramento rookie Omri Casspi. It really was brutal television. It seemed like all three guys had just been plucked off the street*.

*Hey, you want to be in this HORSE competition? OK, Great. We’re doing it right now.

Of course, Durant won. He stepped up on his first shot and casually drained a 35-footer.

And afterward, he said, “It felt like Game 7 of the NBA finals… not that I’ve been there.”

I didn’t hear Durant say these words. He might have said them in jest. He might have been having a little fun. But part of me thinks Durant was halfway serious.

Charles Barkley was present during the game of HORSE. So I was reminded of something Barkley said on TV a few weeks ago.

They were showing highlights of Durant on the postgame show on TNT — and once again, Durant had posted a 30-point night.

“He needs a nickname,” TNT’s Kenny Smith said.

“I like something like the “Total Weapon” because he can score from anywhere,” Barkley said. “He could score at a funeral.”

Yep, we may have found our new Pistol. And Kevin Durant just wants to ball.

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