When the NBA is an extreme sport

The NBA is a large world, a place that can encompass sentimentality, scandal and palace intrigue. Whether you're inclined to be cynical or a sucker for sappiness, Tuesday gave you plenty of material, as two men got their walking papers, and Kevin Durant was handed the Most Valuable Player award.

The Durant MVP news conference, at the converted roller rink that served as the team's first practice facility when it moved from Seattle in 2008, introduced a rarely heard concept in the NBA: purity.

While hundreds of people had gathered outside the building, listening to loud music and staring at a giant banner that proclaimed Durant "OKC's MVP," the Thunder's staffers, business partners and early-adopter season-ticket holders were inside, along with the mayor and the governor. They applauded when Durant's teammates and coaches walked up to the stage, then stood when Durant came down the aisle, as if he were the bride at a big wedding.

A video spoke to Durant's impact on the region, with people from all ages, ethnicities and walks of life -- Thunder teammate, farmer, security guard, barber -- offering testimonial to what Durant meant to them.

Then the in-person tributes began, starting with Thunder general manager Sam Presti.

"I don't think it could be earned any more purely," Presti said of the MVP award.

"He does it with such a pure heart that it inspires all of his teammates and his coaches alike," coach Scott Brooks said. "I've been around him his entire basketball career. And what you see is what you get."

Durant put the rest of it out there for everyone to regard: his hopes and dreams and fears and flaws. He talked of his early days of hooping at the gym, when he fell in love with the game and wanted to grow up to be a rec league coach. Mostly, he talked about his relationships with his teammates, each and every one of them, from the veterans who teach him to the new acquisitions who remind him of his entrance in the league and his desires to get better.

He saved his thoughts about Russell Westbrook, the other half of the most discussed and dissected partnership in the league, for last.

"There's days when I want to just tackle you and tell you to snap out of it sometimes," Durant told him. "I know there's days when you want to do the same with me.

"I love you, man. I love you. A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player. I'm the first to have your back. Through it all. Just stay the person you are. Everybody loves you here. I love you."

Not as much as he loves his mother, of course. Wanda Pratt was only 21 when she gave birth to Kevin, her second son. She's the one who worked long hours to provide the modest means of living that Durant came to appreciate -- even when they sat on the floor of an apartment without furniture. At least they had each other.

"We weren't supposed to be here," Durant said. "You made us believe. Kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on the table. You sacrificed for us. You're the real MVP."

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