You might be surprised to learn that Kevin Durant and I have a lot in common. It’s true that he’s about seven feet tall and a professional athlete, and I’m under six feet and not so physically fit. Also, he’s a multimillionaire while I sometimes wonder if I can pay the bills.
Still, we’re a lot alike.
1. Kevin Durant and I share the same first name.
Kevin comes from an Irish name that means kind, gentle, and handsome. I like to think I embody that definition.
In pop culture, Kevin is often the plain, reliable, cautious character. In Home Alone, Kevin’s ability to outwit and inflict pain on the bumbling criminals is funny precisely because he is a child named Kevin.
In the movie Up, Kevin is colorful, quirky, and affectionate. Yet she can be hostile when necessary. Again, her name helps create the entertaining unlikelihood of her overall personality.
Kevin might usually seem like the name of someone who is common, bland, and commonplace. But in these days of constant extreme, immoderate, and noxious hoopla, the “ordinary” might be the most revolutionary stance anyone can take.
As outstanding of a basketball player Kevin Durant is, KD is kind and gentle human being. When he won the NBA Most Valuable Player award, KD did not heap praise onto himself or tout his brand. Instead, he drew attention to his mother, calling Wanda Durant “the real MVP.”
Offering gratitude to his mom for making him the person he became could be one of the most “Kevin” acts possible, and I believe we’d be better off with more of that kind of goodness.
More than that, Kevin Durant Charity Foundation works to “enrich the lives of at-risk youth from low-income backgrounds through educational, athletic and social programs.” Kevin not only grants significant amounts of money to organizations that help young people, but he gets personally involved.
It’s easy to dismiss wealthy people who donate money from their surplus. We think that it’s easy for them to give because they have so much. However, recently we have seen rich people using their “charitable organizations” as shells to funnel money back to themselves.
I have not been as charitable as KD, not even proportionally so. Yet I aspire to be. One organization I have worked with and strongly believe in is Library on the Go (LOGO). Run by Dr. Barbara Swaby, LOGO provides backpacks filled with books for children from low wealth homes in the Colorado Springs area.
This project involves collecting new and gently-used books, sorting through them, organizing them into reading levels, bagging them, and delivering them to schools, and distributing them to children.
I believe literacy is a human rights issue. The inability to read illustrates the inequities of our society, and access to books is one of the key components of promoting literacy.
We all have unique causes that we feel passionate about, and we do not have to be wealthy celebrities to give our time and resources to benefit others. You can volunteer through countless community organizations or all on your won. All that’s necessary is a desire to do some good in the world.
2. Kevin Durant and I love what we do.
I began playing basketball when I was five years old as the starting point guard on my church league team. As a teen, my best friends and I played nearly every day. Even in snowy Midwest winters, we would put on boots, coats, and gloves so we could go out and shoot some hoops.
My life goal in middle school was to be a 6’ 9” power forward. Alas, that dream never materialized.
I still love basketball. As a native of northeast Ohio, I literally cried when LeBron James delivered a championship to Cleveland in 2016.
Before his Achilles heel injury, Kevin Durant was unanimously considered one of the top two or three basketball players in the world — and we all hope he returns to that level of greatness. His personal awards and team accomplishments will certainly result in his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Along with winning the MVP award, KD won the NBA championship and NBA Finals MVP twice. He is a ten-time all-star, and twice he won the all-star game MVP.
Before being drafted, Kevin Durant was criticized for being too skinny and not strong enough to have a successful career. Clearly, his critics were wrong. Even though KD is naturally gifted, he has trained tirelessly to refine those gifts into the highest-level skills. There are a lot of tall people in the world, but very few of them have reached KD’s level.
He never would have achieved his success in basketball if he did not love the game. Kevin didn’t rest on his natural gifts; he nurtured them.
I don’t have the same gifts as he does, but I have my own talents. I believe everyone does. I believe my personal responsibility is to cultivate and refine my God-given gifts. This is not a version of the Protestant work ethic or self-helpism promoted by pop gurus. Instead, I feel the need to nurture my gifts (however small they may be) is an issue of integrity.
I studied several years to become a classroom teacher. I took undergraduate and graduate classes on academic content and pedagogical methods. I learning specifics of literacy, mathematics, science, and social studies. Additionally, I had to acquire skills in special education and English as a second language.
All of this was required before I ever set foot in a classroom.
After a year of teaching candidacy (student teaching), I finally earned my license and entered the profession.
That’s when my real education began.
Those years had only prepared me to begin teaching. There is nothing like actually practicing the profession. As teacher, I took professional development classes to augment and refine my craft. I collaborated with my more experienced colleagues to benefit from their wisdom, and I shaped my practice to match the needs of my students and their parents.
I probably won’t ever be inducted into an education Hall of Fame, but that’s not why I honed my talents. The integrity of the teaching profession called for off of this and more.
Following his Achilles surgery, Kevin Durant wrote on his Instagram account, “Basketball is my biggest love.” KD plays for the love of the game, to be the best he can be, and to contribute to the game. That’s integrity.
Integrity is its own success in all aspects of our lives.
3. Kevin Durant and I have leg issues.
Before rupturing his Achilles tendon in the NBA finals, KD suffered what was reported as a calf injury against the Houston Rockets. After a month of rehab, he attempted to come back and play against the Toronto Raptors in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. His Achilles burst in that game, and he underwent surgery a day later.
Many top-notch athletes have suffered from this injury: Kobe Bryant, Dan Marino, Chauncey Billups, and Richard Sherman to name a few.
An Achilles surgery typically requires about a year to heal, and about 30% of athletes never recover enough to play again. The recovery process comes with a significant physical pain and emotional distress.
Even with the best healthcare, KD will suffer.
He’ll struggle with bad days, and he’ll question himself. His leg will hurt — and so will his mind.
At night, he’ll feel desperately alone and wonder whether or not he wants to continue on this path. When he wakes up, he’ll go about his routine, and much of which will involve waiting.
Over time, though, he will see improvement. Through physical therapy, occupational therapy, and coaching, Kevin Durant will notice eventually that he can walk without pain. Then, he’ll be able to run and jump again. As he follows the process, KD will likely get back to the court. He may even return to the top of the game, and this would be one of the best comeback stories in NBA history.
I have leg and foot issues too. I suffer from a rare disease called erythromelalgia (EM). Also known as Man on Fire Disease, EM causes relentless burning, redness, and swelling from my toes up through my thighs. It resides in my hands and ears as well.
Because of EM, I live in constant pain. I spend most days with my feet up because the burning increases when my legs dangle. Wearing socks is impossible, and sandals are the only shoes I can wear — even in winter. Having erythromelalgia has helped me understand the physics of walking. Each step causes friction, and that friction burns.
EM has become my constant companion. Through most nights, I battle painsomnia. When I wake up, it pokes red-hot pins into the ends of my toes. Through the day, EM tingles, aches, and torches. Almost every kind of movement can cause a flare, and some days I cannot even shower because the water hurts as it sprays my body.
The disease often flares up for no apparent reason. The burning can randomly intensify and drive me out of my mind.
Thankfully, I have world-class medical care, including a leading EM expert at the Mayo Clinic. They have prescribed multiple medications that I take throughout the day in order to contain the neurological scorching, but nothing ever fully extinguishes it.
While Kevin Durant have the issues in our legs, mine will not improve because there is no cure. And hopefully unlike KD, erythromelalgia has cost me my job. I am no longer physically able to teach. I began to receive disability benefits several months ago. I am grateful that I qualified, yet I wonder what the future holds.
What will I do with my days? Where will I find purpose? Who have I become? Do I have any reason to exist beyond laying on the couch, scrolling through social media, and watching ESPN?
We all have our share of physical and emotional distress, and we all wrestle with existential questions. Illnesses and injuries accelerate their urgency. We can find consolation in knowing that we’re not alone in our daily crises, and this knowledge can drive us to greater solidarity with others.
4. Kevin and I have to respect our bodies.
For the month following KD’s calf injury, talking heads debated whether or not he should return this season. No one knew the extent of his original injury, and the lead-up to every game was a drama. Will KD play or not?
Some people advised him to sit out because he might aggravate his injury and cost himself several million dollars in free agency. Other “experts” argued that he should return to playing this season to lead the Golden State Warriors to the championship thereby solidifying his reputation as one of the all-time greatest players.
No one knows for sure why he came back in game 5 of the Finals. Certainly the Warriors’ medical staff and presumably his own medical team cleared him.
Because KD loves the game and did not want to let his teammates down, he certainly pushed himself to play. He felt ready and wanted to get back out on the court. Players play.
At the same time Kevin Durant is popularly known for being especially sensitive to the opinions of others. In that way, he’s a lot like everyone else. No doubt he heard the talk on ESPN, the chatter on sports radio, and the tweets on social media questioning his toughness.
Add together Kevin’s love of the game, his desire to be a great player, his loyalty to his team, and the expecations of the sports world, KD played — whether his body was ready or not. And now he is recovering from a ruptured Achilles surgery.
I could be wrong, but I believe that KD did not listen carefully enough to his body. He likely believed that he could mentally overcome a physical ailment. He probably played before his original calf injury fully healed, and this possibly contributed to his ruptured his Achilles. (That’s not to blame him or anyone. It’s just my opinion.)
When I first experienced symptoms of erythromelalgia, I tried to ignore them. For two years, I did not miss a day of teaching. Meanwhile, I suffered extreme pain and fatigue. My family life suffered because I fell asleep on the couch nearly every evening, and I often could not attend special events like concerts and plays.
When I began short-term disability, I pushed myself to recover. I tried several treatments, everything from chiropractic care to a spinal cord stimulator. I wanted to get better so desperately that I even dreamt of going back to the classroom.
The constant fear of never teaching again took its toll. I longed to see my students and colleagues, and I suffered from anxiety, depression, and bouts of tears. After nearly a year, I began therapy to find ways of dealing with the prospects of losing my profession. In therapy, I learned to respect my body.
Today I no longer teach in the classroom, but I have done some online tutoring. I still grapple with taking life at a slower pace. If I want to take a short walk, I need to scan my body carefully to be sure I can do it now without instigating a flare. The pain and medications lower my ability to focus, so I have to listen to audiobooks instead of reading myself. Somedays I must own the fact that I cannot shower for the day. I often feel embarrassed if I need someone to support me when I stand up or get dressed, but I am thankful that I have a family who loves me enough to aid and understand.
No one can force their body to succumb to their will. You cannot make your body do something it is not able to do, and there’s no reason to feel ashamed about it.
I am learning not to feel self-conscious by my body that suffers from a chronic illness. I am not always successful at this, but I keep trying. My next steps involve embracing and accepting my body as it is and not pushing myself beyond my body’s limits. This includes using a cane on most days and a walker when I need it. I have a disability placard for my car, and I’m also getting used to the idea that I may need a wheelchair in the near future.
Kevin Durant and I have lived wildly different experiences, but we have a lot in common. Even if the specifics vary, we both want to contribute to the lives of others and develop our gifts. We both face physical challenges, and we live an embodied existence.
Like everyone, Kevin Durant and I have a shared humanity. We hope, love, suffer, fail, and overcome.
May KD recover quickly. And may we all rejoice in our shared humanity.