Nine players faced off around the Oklahoma City’s trademark shield at the center of the Oklahoma City Arena floor. Typical pleasantries were exchanged as the Thunder and visiting Minnesota Timberwolves awaited the game ball for tipoff.
But the tenth player was already in the middle of his own pre-tip routine. That player was NBA nice guy Kevin Durant.
The Thunder’s star small forward giddily skipped around the court, putting his arm around teammates and opponents, and giving nods to officials; just about everyone on the floor received a warm welcome from Durant.
But tonight, one opponent was given special attention. When Durant reached Minnesota forward Michael Beasley, the two engaged in a vice lock fraternal hug, the kind that only two old friends would know.
Durant and Beasley first met when the pair were 11 years old. They played on a team of youngsters in Maryland, and before long became inseparable.
“He sort of lived with me almost,” Durant recalled to the Seattle Times in 2008. “He would come over before school, after school, stay late and then leave. [We’re] very tight. We’re brothers. We tell each other we love each other. We’ve been through a lot. Almost the same things.”
After their pee-wee days, Beasley and the three months older Durant blazed eerily similar paths. Both spent their freshman years at Fort Washington, MD’s National Christian Academy, transferred to Virginia’s famed Oak Hill Academy as juniors and would go on to be MVP of the McDonald’s All American game.
Both would play one season at Big 12 schools in college, Durant at the University of Texas and Beasley at Kansas State, before declaring for the NBA draft. Some even thought they’d play together when they got there.
Finally, both would use stellar, if brief, college careers to convince NBA teams to draft them each second overall. Durant (2007) and Beasley (2008) would enter the league amid towering expectations, but only Durant, the odds on scoring king for the second straight season, has lived up to them.
At least until now.
In his third season in the association, his first with the Timberwolves, Beasley has upped his scoring average more than four points to 18.9 points per contest, and still retrieves 5.5 rebounds despite sharing the floor with board vacuum Kevin Love.
In the Timberwolves’ 111-103 loss to the Thunder that night, Beasley finished with 20 points and eight rebounds.
“I’m very happy for him,” Durant said of Beasley’s career season. “I’m glad he got that opportunity to shine.”
But Beasley, after a successful amateur career, is accustomed to winning, something he hasn’t enjoyed much this season with the 17-56 T-Wolves.
“He’s having a great year, but he’s not satisfied,” Durant said. “He wants to take a team to the playoffs, and I think he can, so he’s just got to keep working.”
Just like his friend Kevin did.