- Associated Press - Friday, July 9, 2010

THE VILLAGE, OKLA. (AP) - Like fellow NBA superstar LeBron James the night before, Kevin Durant sat in front of dozens of kids on Friday as he talked about the future of his basketball career.

The key difference: Everyone in attendance knew where Durant will be playing the next few years _ the same franchise with which he started his pro career. That theme of loyalty _ of the Thunder to Durant, of Durant to the franchise and the city that’s embraced him _ dominated the discussion.

“To be here for five more years is a great feeling. Words can’t explain how excited I am,” Durant said. He stayed away from any promises, but was certain “our best years are ahead of us.”

Durant began professing his love for Oklahoma City not long after the Thunder franchise moved here from Seattle two years ago. As he emerged as a star, some wondered whether he might long for brighter lights instead of toiling in one of the league’s smallest markets.

Instead, Durant and the Thunder reached a deal on a contract extension quickly. Team representatives, including general manager Sam Presti, showed up at Durant’s house at 11:01 p.m. Central time on June 30, the earliest possible time allowed under league rules. Durant said he felt humbled by that action and wanted to reciprocate that loyalty to the team.

“It showed how much they cared about me as a person,” Durant said.

“I’ve always been a loyal person. I just love this organization, what we stand for, which is family. I’m really big on that. This is the only place for me. I told everybody a couple of years back that I wanted to be a part of this organization, so I stuck with it.”

Presti praised both Durant and Thunder chairman Clay Bennett, saying Bennett made it possible for the team to offer the reigning NBA scoring champ a maximum contract.

Presti said Durant’s combination of skills, work ethic, humility and understanding of the team concept is rare.

“Today is about commitment,” Presti said. “Kevin made a statement committing to our organization for an additional five years at a time when there’s much uncertainty in the NBA. Yet, as has been the case throughout his career, he demonstrated why he is a unique superstar, one that our organization stands behind and believes in.”

He added: “At a time when people think ‘I,’ Kevin thinks ‘we.’”

Durant is signed with the Thunder through next season under his original rookie contract, which would pay him about $5 million next year. The five-year extension does not include a player opt-out option after four years, at Durant’s request.

Durant was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 draft and won the Rookie of the Year award. Last season, he was selected as an All-Star for the first time and averaged 30.1 points per game to become the youngest player to lead the league in scoring.

He led the Thunder to a 50-32 record _ a 27-win improvement over the previous season _ and the first round of the NBA playoffs. Oklahoma City fell to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in six games.

Durant has spent much of this week in Orlando, Fla., with his teammates at the NBA Summer League. Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Durant’s mere presence there offered proof that Durant does not take shortcuts as a pro player.

“For (a superstar) to come to the summer league to support his team, that’s rare, but that’s normal for Kevin,” Brooks said, noting that Durant participated in the team’s 6:45 a.m. workouts.

Unlike James, who announced his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and sign as a free agent with the Miami Heat during an hour-long ESPN special on Thursday, Durant told the world about his new deal quietly through a Twitter post.

Asked about that contrast, Durant said it was simply in his character. He did not criticize James, saying the two situations were different because James was a free agent and Durant was not.

“He’s the biggest thing in sports and everybody wanted to know where he was going, two years ago,” Durant said. “My situation was different. I felt like I didn’t need a big crowd around me to make my decision. It was pretty easy. As I said, I want to be here.”

Durant’s mother, Wanda Pratt; father, Wayne Pratt; and grandmother attended Friday’s event. Each wore a huge smile and his mom said Oklahoma City is a good place for her son.

“I’m very proud of Kevin,” Wanda Pratt said. “I’m proud of the person that he is more than the basketball player.”

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