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Durant leaps from court to screen
Rising basketball star plays himself in new movie
Question of the Day
OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant is going from representing the red, white and blue to walking the red carpet.
Adding to a resume that already includes being a three-time NBA scoring champion and Olympic gold medalist, Durant was the star as his movie "Thunderstruck" premiered in Oklahoma City's Bricktown entertainment district Sunday night. It opens in other theaters Friday.
Durant strolled down a red carpet in a black T-shirt, gray vest, white jeans and black sneakers to answer questions about his acting skills instead of the deadly shooting ability that propelled the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Finals last season.
"Of course, people are going to look at it a little different because I'm a basketball player and I'm doing something different," Durant said. "A basketball player is what I do. It's not really just solely who I am. I like to do other things.
"It's all about conquering your fears. That's one thing I did with this, stepping in front of a camera and people yelling 'Action!' It's not the norm for me. I did something outside the box, and I'm glad it turned out pretty well."
Durant was getting his first chance to see the completed project, which was shot in Louisiana during the NBA lockout last year and then during the season in Oklahoma City in January.
It also features Nickelodeon star Taylor Gray, Brandon T. Jackson from "Big Momma's House" and Jim Belushi. Mr. Gray plays a Thunder fan whose lack of basketball ability is magically switched with Durant's All-Star skill set.
"I'm just blessed. I'm just blessed to be alive, first of all. Blessed to be here, to have this opportunity," Durant said.
"Not too many people can say they starred in a movie as a basketball player, with a lot of different things they're juggling, but I'm glad I did it."
The folks at Warner Bros. might not have been able to pick a better time to put out a movie starring Durant, exactly one week after he won Olympic gold as Team USA's leading scorer and a little more than a month after he played against LeBron James' Miami Heat for the NBA title.
The family comedy follows in the footsteps of other movies with NBA superstars as the headliners, including "Space Jam" starring Michael Jordan and "Kazaam" with Shaquille O'Neal.
"When a guy goes over and hugs his mom after the game, that's a guy that people are going to like, and that's what you need in a movie," director John Whitesell said. "You need a guy, a star, who people are going to want to relate to or are going to care about.
"You want people to care that Kevin can't shoot. If LeBron can't shoot, I don't care. I'm happy. But if Kevin can't shoot, I'm sad."
Mr. Whitesell said Durant might have been caught off guard by the days he had to be on set and in front of the camera for 12 hours, when his previous experience was with much briefer commercial shoots.
The first day, he had Durant bounce a ball in a gym and worked toward getting him comfortable in his own shoes -- because he plays himself in the movie.
"I wanted to create an atmosphere for him that he felt comfortable and confident in, so that he could grow into it as we went, and I think that went really well," said Mr. Whitesell, who remembered his only other experience filming athletes coming on a cameo appearance by Patrick Ewing and Mark Jackson on the short-lived NBC show "Tattingers."
Mr. Gray said he played varsity basketball as a junior in high school, but then left to start shooting TV shows. He walks away with an unforgettable memory from playing one-on-one against Durant.
"It's like, to this day, my biggest accomplishment in basketball. He was really guarding me and had blocked like the last three shots and I was just running around throwing up hook shots and anything I could, and one fell in," said Mr. Gray, who hopes the film will help him land roles in future movies.
Durant has said he doesn't see himself doing any more feature-length movies because of the demands on his time. Mr. Whitesell put it this way: He doesn't think Durant will do another movie at least until he wins a championship.
"This is a guy who everybody wants a piece of him right now and he's got a lot on his plate. But I know from when we were there what he cares about. He cares about basketball," Mr. Whitesell said. "He wants to win a championship, he wants to do the best he can possibly do at that, and he's just blossoming."
Already, Durant has accomplished one goal by winning gold in London alongside James, Kobe Bryant and other NBA stars. He said he didn't get much ribbing about being a movie star, although a couple of his Olympic teammates did ask about it.
He planned to send a text message to them all after getting to see the movie for the first time.
"Hopefully they'll take their kids to see it, and hopefully they enjoy it," Durant said. "Those guys, man, they're unbelievable. They support everything. Those guys are really good teammates. I was blessed that I got that opportunity to be around such great players but such humble guys as well."
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