- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2012

As the seconds ticked down, Kevin Durant let out a long, slow exhale. His first trip to the NBA Finals was about to end, and it wasn’t the outcome he had hoped for. The Oklahoma City Thunder would lose the series 4-1 to the Miami Heat after winning Game 1.

But in the midst of celebrating his first championship, Heat forward LeBron James sought out Durant. As the two embraced, James whispered in the District native’s ear. Neither player will reveal exactly what was said, but there are some things that friends like to keep to themselves.

Less than a month later, Durant finds himself teamed up with James on the USA Basketball team and will play an exhibition against Brazil on Monday night at Verizon Center as a tuneup for the London Olympics.

“We’re friends, and we compete hard when we play against each other,” Durant said. “If we didn’t like each other, that would be different. But we’re cool. I think the relationship we have is going to make it even better once we compete against each other in the future. But we’re not going to worry about that here. We’re just going to focus on USA Basketball.”

It’s been a season of accomplishments for Durant, who won his third consecutive NBA scoring title, made his first finals appearance and joined Thunder teammates Russell Westbrook and James Harden as members of the Olympic team.

“Having James and Kevin as Olympic teammates, it’s definitely more comfortable,” Westbrook said. “It brings us a lot closer and gives us this experience together, so it’s great.”

For Durant, it’s a much different summertime experience than the one he had last year. With the NBA in the midst of a lockout, Durant spent his time playing on the outdoor asphalt courts at Barry Farm and the indoor gym at Spingarn High School as he led his Goodman League teammates in the summer-league circuit.

“Last summer, I didn’t have anything to do, so all I did was go out and go hoop in different places,” Durant said. “This is not like a summer-league game where I can go down and do my thing like I do at Barry Farms.”

Although Durant has some international experience as a member of the 2010 FIBA World Championship team, training for his first Olympic Games is more challenging.

“This is a bigger stage for us, the Olympics. Much bigger,” Durant said.

“We’ve just got to continue to keep building that chemistry day by day and we’ll be fine. We have to do a better job of rebounding and running, getting stops and getting out in transition. If we do that, we’re one of the best teams in the world.”

During their first exhibition game, coach Mike Krzyzewski had Durant, Westbrook and Harden on the court at the same time for several stretches and was impressed by their camaraderie.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to have them on our team,” Krzyzewski said. “Those three guys are no-maintenance guys. You never have to worry about them, they’re always doing something extra. They’re team-first guys.”

Harden, who struggled in the finals, looked to Durant keep him from becoming discouraged.

He still does.

Kevin is a great leader, a humble leader,” Harden said. “He likes to do his leading by example and not by a lot of talking,” Harden said.

Durant acknowledges he’s looking to win a gold medal, but he’s also excited about becoming part of the larger Team USA family of athletes. When he’s not on the court, he plans to take in a few other sports and support American athletes.

“To have that red, white and blue across our chest, it’s powerful,” Durant said, “so I’m just looking forward to going over there and being part of a big family. I’m going to go to a lot of track and swimming and beach volleyball. It’s going to be fun.”



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