“First off, I’d like to thank God for changing my life. It let me really realize what life is all about. Basketball is just a platform in order for me to inspire people, and I realize that.”
We get mixed up at times, don’t we? Exactly who is the most valuable player in a sports league? The one who has the most talent or the person who contributes the most to the team’s success? The one who has the best stats or the person who is the heart and soul of the team? The one who wins all the individual honors and touts their own success, or the person who leads their teammates by selfless play and integrity?
Twenty-five year old Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the National Basketball Association was honored with the Most Valuable Player Award last week by a panel of broadcasters and sportswriters in the United States and Canada. The doubts of anyone who questioned his worthiness were dispelled last Tuesday when Durant delivered his acceptance speech. It ought to be mandatory listening for every seminary student, clergy, and child, youth and adult in our churches as an example of servant leadership.
Servant leaders know that there is no “I” in “team.”
Kevin spent most of his twenty-six minute speech thanking his teammates for making him a better basketball player. He said, “You made me look way better than I am. I am not always the best player or leader. Thank you for giving me confidence. I can’t explain how much I care about you.”
Durant honored every single player by name, affirming their role on the basketball court and in his life. “Never change who you are.” “I thank you so much for your spirit.” “You elevate my game.” “You would run through a wall for me.” “I love you, man. I love you.”
Durant then thanked his coaches and all those staff members who take care of him. He said, “I wish I could write your names with a Sharpie on this trophy. You took the time to work with me. I never want to take you for granted.” He even thanked the city of Oklahoma City, saying, “All you want is for us to be ourselves. We are all a work in process as men, and we thank you for embracing us.”
Wise beyond his years, Durant understands that even though he received the MVP award, he could not have done it without his teammates. He said, “When you’ve got people behind you, you can do whatever.” And “I feel like we all won it. Our equipment guy gave me a hug today and said, ‘This is my first MVP,’ and I thought about that. And I said, ‘Yeah, this is our first MVP.’ I couldn’t have done it without the teammates, without the trainer. Everybody. We all just did this together.”
Servant leaders draw the best out of others.
The respect and love that Durant’s teammates have for him were evident during the speech. Many fought back tears as Durant praised each one. Durant’s selflessness and dedication to continuous improvement inspires his teammates to a similar commitment. They recognize that not only has Durant taken his game to a different level this season, but in the process their own games have improved as well.
Because Durant is able to express vulnerability about times when he becomes angry, messes up, or gets down on himself, his teammates also felt free to be honest about their struggles. This year they all worked together to draw the best out of each other, with Kevin leading the way.
Servant leaders know that their gifts are not their own.
No one is a completely self-made person, even though if anyone could be, Kevin Durant would be one. Durant was born to a single mother who gave birth to his older brother at age eighteen and had him at age twenty-one. Crying when he told the story, Durant said in his MVP speech, “The odds were stacked against us… Single parent with two boys by the time you were twenty-one years old. Everybody told us we weren’t supposed to be here. We moved from apartment to apartment by ourselves. One of the best memories I had was when we moved into our first apartment. No bed, no furniture, and we just all sat in a room and just hugged each other. We thought we’d made it.”
Each one of us is the product of many individuals who shape and mold us into who we are today. Without his family, coaches, teachers and church members encouraging and, at times, holding Durant accountable when he wanted to quit, he would have never made it to the NBA.
“My dream was to become a rec league coach,” Durant said. “That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to stay home and help the kids out and be a coach. I loved basketball so much. I loved playing it. I just never thought that I could make it to college, the NBA or stand up here in front of you guys and be the NBA MVP. It’s just a surreal feeling, and I’ve had so much help.”
Servant leaders give back to their community, family and the world.
At the tender age of twenty-five, Durant understands the obligations that go along with being a leader. When a tornado swept through Oklahoma a year ago, killing twenty-four people and injuring hundreds, Durant donated $1 million to the Red Cross. Later that day the Oklahoma Thunder basketball organization also pledged $1 million. Thunder center Kendrick Perkins thanked Kevin for the donation and wrote, “Love it, bro. That’s how you keep it real. That’s a good thing, bro. One million dollars is a blessing for the community.”
Kevin and his mother, Wanda Pratt, have formed the Kevin Durant Family Foundation, whose vision is to “‘Play forward’ Durant’s own priorities – helping children and families succeed. To achieve that vision, monies donated to the Foundation will support funding areas that are aligned with the very things that Kevin believes were of help to him as he was growing up and on his personal road to the NBA.”
- After-school and summer programs
- Single parents programs
- Education programs
- Expanding Kevin’s holiday giving activities for children
Servant leaders understand that their gifts come from God and are to be used for God’s glory, not theirs.
Kevin grew up in a family of faith because his mother was a woman of faith. In a recent interview Wanda said, “Faith was always there. It was always a part of my family and my extended family. The word of God was always in my home. We went to church so it was always there… Kevin has always had a longing for the things of God and always had a longing for being in church and being in Bible study. So it was quite natural that he follow that.”
An acknowledged Christian, Kevin has been known to carry a Bible to games in his backpack. After a game during the 2011-2012 season, Durant told the press, “I just want to grow spiritually with the Lord. I’m keeping strong at it, just trying to make my walk with faith a little better. That’s making me a better person, opening my eyes to things, and I’m also maturing as a person. I’m just trying to grow.”
At the end of his MVP speech Durant praised his mother, who worked as a postal mail handler. Kevin thanked her for her courage in holding his feet to the fire when he wanted to give up his dreams. She knew what was waiting for him if he went back to the streets.
“When something good happens to you, I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to took back to what brought me here. (To his mother) You woke me up in the middle of the night in the summer times. Making me run up a hill. Making me do push-ups. Screaming at me from the sidelines at my games at eight or nine years old.
“We weren’t supposed to be here. You made us believe. You kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.”
As he began, so Durant finished his speech with God. “Finally, I thank God. You are the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega. Thank you for saving my life.”
Who is the real MVP? Is it Kevin? Is it Wanda? Is it every person who molded and shaped Kevin into who he is today? Is it any servant leader who sees their life as a platform for inspiring others? Whom are you nurturing and empowering to be one of God’s Most Valuable Persons?