By Dan Campana
He doesn’t have a trademark nickname or go simply by one name.
He doesn’t play on either coast where the media crafts a star.
He doesn’t draw attention from the paparazzi or TMZ.
All Kevin Durant has done since being selected No. 2 in the 2007 NBA Draft is emerge as the league’s top young player.
In just three seasons, he’s been chosen NBA Rookie of the Year, became the youngest scoring champion in league history – averaging 30.1 points per game for Oklahoma City in 2009/10 season – and finished second in MVP voting behind LeBron James last season.
Now, bookend his brief NBA career with a sensational freshman season at Texas that earned him Big 12 Player of the Year honors for the 2006/07 campaign and leading the United States to gold this summer in the FIBA World Championship and it’s easy to see why he’s quickly reached superstar status.
“Putting Team USA on his back and carrying his country to a championship at the Worlds in Turkey in an incredibly hostile environment … all of that has taken Durant to another level,” Marc Stein, longtime NBA analyst for ESPN, said. “Not just confidence-wise on the floor, but also marketability off the floor. His game and array of achievements at such a young age transcend market size, exposure, all that stuff. He’s simply one of the top five must-see guys in the league right now.”
Added K.C. Johnson, who covers the Chicago Bulls for the Chicago Tribune, “From a basketball standpoint, he’s virtually unguardable. He just creates matchup havoc.”
All of that makes a watertight case for why Durant has earned respect from his peers, the media and NBA fans who have made his jersey a top-10 seller.
Durant’s talent and on-court growth makes him equally, if not more, popular in hobby circles. For all the stats that prove Durant’s skills, there’s these numbers to back up his cardboard credibility:
– $2,001 – the final selling price for a 2007/08 Exquisite auto-patch Durant rookie card numbered to 99.
– $2,500 – the final selling price for a 2007/08 Exquisite Year One autographed rookie card numbered to 10.
– $2,800 – the final selling price for another 07/08 Exquisite auto-patch rookie numbered to 99 with a high grade.
What’s more amazing is those three auctions all ended on the same October day, nearly a month before the NBA season started. Collectors and sellers are clearly hot for Durant, but even his quick rise to NBA stardom will make the $200,000 asking price for another high-grade Exquisite rookie card hard to fathom.
Still, there’s no denying Durant is outpacing even Miami’s Big Three.
“He single-handedly brought basketball back for us,” Tattoo Thomas, manager of S & S Sports Cards in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, said. “We used to keep a pretty limited selection. Basketball was kind of non-existent with OU (Oklahoma Football) being the main thing here.”
Basketball planted pro roots in the area thanks to Chris Paul during the New Orleans Hornets brief stint calling Oklahoma City home, and former Sooner standout Blake Griffin helped draw interest in roundball collectibles.
The gradual rise of Durant on the court mirrored the increase in local hobby love.
“It’s hard to keep Durant in stock, it doesn‘t matter what it is as long as it has Durant,” Thomas said, adding the backlash against King James and Co. only proved to bolster interest in Durant.
While Durant’s on-court skills are what most people admire, Thomas says the young star’s low-key style and dedication have local fans and collectors even more interested. Thomas talked about camps attended by Durant and his willingness to sign autographs before and after games.
“It’s the little things that don’t get reported. It’s really about his demeanor,” Thomas explained.
Johnson agrees, citing the assessments of current Bulls assistant coach Ron Adams, who previously worked in Oklahoma City, as well as other league sources.
“They speak to him being completely genuine. His popularity will transcend into all areas because he does things the right way,” Johnson said.
In a recent column, Darnell Mayberry, Thunder beat writer for the Oklahoman, summed Durant up this way:
“This, Durant’s fourth NBA season, projects to be the Thunder star’s most superb year yet. Fans, like scientists studying a solar eclipse, could be in for a rare treat – only it will be much easier to enjoy Durant’s exploits.”
Collectors certainly hope Durant cards and memorabilia follow a similar meteoric rise. SCM
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