THE BEST TIME to see that Durant is still a kid is before games. At Staples Center this morning he shoots for only 15 minutes, then plants himself on the scorer's table to check out the peripheral action, specifically the warmup routines of the Clippers' dance team. It's not what you think—well, it's sort of what you think—but Durant gets just as big a kick out of watching the junior team, swaying and bobbing his head to replicate the preteens' moves. He is already celebrated around Seattle for offering to play video games with any young neighbors who have the temerity to come knocking on his door. "Sometimes they bring him cookies," says his mother.
On his way to the locker room, Durant stops and signs items for fans: a sneaker, a photo, a ticket stub. "My, I hope that young man gets fed more," a woman in the crowd says. It's not as if Durant is trying to be a beanpole. Wanda, who prepares most of his meals, met with the team's nutritionist two days ago, and she briefed her son before he headed to L.A. "I'm supposed to eat the same stuff, only more of it," Durant said last Saturday at the team's hotel in Marina del Rey. "Four eggs instead of two. Four pieces of baked chicken instead of two. Four meals instead of three. But it's going to be lifting weights and just normal growth that will really put the weight on."
Durant looks like a man in this game. He sticks his head into the action and finishes with eight rebounds; through his first three games he was averaging 6.0, suggesting that someday he could get double figures by relying on his long arms and instincts. Offensively, he seems comfortable from the 12:30 p.m. tip-off, draining threes (he will hit three of six), sticking quick-release jumpers from the wing and, most promising for his potential superstardom, putting the ball on the floor and pulling up from midrange. On one play in the first quarter he hits a fall-back jumper despite being closely guarded by Clippers stopper Quinton Ross—a shot that signals bad news for future Sonics opponents.
But this is bad news for the Sonics: L.A. outscores them 37--25 in the fourth quarter to pull away with a 115--101 victory. In the final 12 minutes of their three losses, Seattle has now been outscored 98--64. Durant, having played his best all-around game (24 points on 10-of-19 shooting, eight rebounds, five assists, only one turnover), is asked afterward if he feels burdened because his teammates rely on him too much. "I don't think they rely on me too much," Durant says immediately. "We're a team." His response might be programmed, but at least he's been programmed well. He takes responsibility for not getting out and defending the three-point shot (the Clippers hit seven), promises that he and his fellow Sonics will amp up the effort in the fourth quarter and, well, here it comes....
"We'll get better," says Durant. "We have 79 games to go."
And so the countdown continues. Durant's future seems limitless, but lots of long nights and hard times await the Boy King before he truly belongs among NBA royalty.