I’ve been a big fan of Kevin Durant for a long time now. A superstar of the game, and (in my opinion) the most pure and technically gifted player in the NBA. But Kevin Durant has been catching my eye for reasons other than basketball recently.
Kevin Durant was asked in this past year what moniker he would prefer to be called having rejected fan offerings such as “The Durantula” and the “Slim Reaper”. Most NBA nicknames are meant to intimidate or proclaim the greatness of that athlete’s particular prowess, from “The Answer”, to “Magic”, “The Human Highlight Reel”, “Larry legend” or even…“The King”. Durant responded by saying he would like to be known by a different name: The Servant. You can feel the cultural tension already.
You see Kevin Durant doesn’t interest me just because he can drive to the basket with such grace and speed that it keeps Dwyane Wade up at night. It’s because Kevin Durant isn’t simply interested in building a kingdom for himself on earth. Durant has set himself on a course of action to shape and influence culture by building someone else’s Kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus’s Kingdom.
When Durant chose the nickname The Servant, in one single action he set himself against the culture of sports, entertainment, and celebrity. Aside from being spectacularly uncool (Even as a lover of all things Durant and all things Jesus I have to admit it ain’t the catchiest of nicknames) it speaks to something about his character and about the legacy he wants to leave. While most athletes spend their entire lives seeking personal glory, records, championships, titles, and a place in the history books, Durant is focused on more than just worldly success. I imagine the immortal words of Art LaFleur (from everyone’s favorite childhood sports movie The Sandlot) ring in the ears of most professional athletes:
“Heroes get remembered but legends never die”
I’d be willing to wager that Durant lives by words from a different cultural prophet:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” – Matthew 6:19-21
Because here’s the truth: heroes are forgotten and legends do die. A legacy on earth is a legacy with an expiration date. Durant has set his eyes a little higher. A few months after asking to be called ‘The Servant’ Durant followed through on the promise of his new name by backing it up with an action so powerful that it transcended sports and reverberated throughout the nation. His MVP speech.
After being handed the award for being the most valuable player in the entire NBA, for breaking records set by Michael Jordan, and for surpassing massive individual goals and markers, Durant had to give a speech. But he chose not to speak about his personal goals and achievements; of his greatness and his esteem. Instead, he addressed his mother. Through veiled tears he said this:
“We weren’t supposed to be here. You made us believe. You kept us off the street. You put clothes on our backs. You put food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate and [you] went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.”
When given the highest honor an active NBA player can receive, when being heaped with glory and praise, Durant in an act of perfect submission and servant-hood, deflected the praise to someone else. The video of his speech quickly went viral. This was unprecedented. When put in a position of glory he chose a posture of humility. Living in a culture of arrogance and pride he chose a culture of honor. Kevin Durant has done more than show me what technical perfection in a jump-shot looks like. He has taught me some very significant biblical truths:
1. Humility is powerful. While pride is in ample supply in our culture of celebrity and success, humility is in high demand. Durant’s stance of humility was unexpected, counter-cultural, and a true reflection of the heart of Jesus.
2. Honoring the generation that has gone before us is an integral and important part of spiritual maturity. Durant didn’t arrogantly pound his chest while exclaiming with great bravado and machismo that he did it all by himself when no-one believed in him. He honored the sacrifices that had gone before him. He honored the difficult decisions that have paved the way for his success. He honored his mother for her Christ like servant-hood as she spent nights hungry so her growing boys could eat. This culture of honor that Durant displayed is something that has been severely lacking in our 21st century mindset of individualism. Giving honor is a valuable character trait that has been dropped as we’ve climbed the ladder to success, and something that is particularly important within student ministry. As young people (I myself am the same age as Durant) we must grow into a maturity of receiving and then giving honor, particularly to the older generation. It is time to heal the generational divide
3. Servant-hood, humility, and honor are so powerful that they have the ability to shift the culture of an entire nation. These virtues are so counter-cultural that they have the power to shatter the current social order. Durant’s speech has travelled all over the world on the waves of the internet’s mystical web, the NBA made an entire commercial around Durant’s speech, KD’s words started an internet meme “You the real MVP”, a slogan emblazoned over an image of Durant referencing somebody who you think deserves recognition. With a few simply words Durant brought an entire nation to take notice of the fact that sometimes it’s not all about us. That sometimes others need to be praised, raised up, and honored. “You the real MVP” may be an internet joke, but it isn’t one that mocks Durant, it is one that references that the current generation is looking for answers and they are willing to take notice of when someone breaks from the status quo.
Kevin Durant; The Servant indeed.
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” – 1 Peter 5:5
But speaking about being a true servant, we’d like to thank this type of person…