Durant turns focus from hoops to holidays
Jeff Latzke, AP Sports Writer : December 15, 2009
OKLAHOMA CITY — First, Kevin Durant took on LeBron James. Then it was Carmelo Anthony.
On Tuesday, he took on the challenge of providing a Christmas for kids who otherwise might have gone without one.
In a brief break from a busy stretch of basketball for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant took three young boys on a shopping spree at Penn Square Mall, then delegated some holiday shopping to some fans willing to lend a hand.
Durant, who trails only James and Anthony in the NBA scoring race after facing the two on back-to-back days, held a "Giving Tree" event for 100 kids served by Oklahoma City-based charities Sunbeam Family Services and Positive Tomorrows.
"That's what it's all about. It's the season of giving," said Durant, wearing a Santa Claus hat. "I just want to provide them with things that will help them out, especially the less fortunate."
Durant offered autographs and photo opportunities to those who agreed to take on a child's wish list and buy at least one gift. Anyone who bought all three items on the child's list were also given a pair of tickets to a Thunder game.
The event took place during one of the more hectic portions of Oklahoma City's schedule. The Thunder play five games in seven days but had Tuesday off following a back-to-back against Cleveland and Denver.
"That's all it takes. We have a busy schedule but we might be off one day," said Durant, who kept tight-lipped about plans to unveil his new Nike sneakers on Wednesday night. "This is the perfect time to help, especially around this time of the year. Whenever we can give back to the community, that's what we do."
A constant stream of people willing to help out kept Durant signing autographs and smiling for the camera for two solid hours, with a line of bags filled with donated gifts eventually spilling out of a back room and into the main area where Durant was seated.
"We've been meeting with all the families that have been coming through today wanting to provide Christmas and meet Kevin Durant. They get the thrill of meeting a superstar, and our kids get to have a holiday that they'll remember," said Kelli Dupuy, director of marketing and development for Sunbeam. "It's really a win-win."
Sunbeam offers foster care, counseling and early childhood services, in addition to services for senior citizens. Positive Tomorrows is a private elementary school for homeless children.
"It's a constant struggle to try to provide an education for them. At the same time, we have to worry about whether they're sleeping and eating," said April Doshier of Positive Tomorrows. "So, our students are kids who don't have Christmas."
By the time Durant was done, gifts had poured in for each of the kids and new shoppers were being sent out to buy the remaining items on the wish lists. Dupuy said several shoppers had offered additional donations and others said they'd buy any wish list items that weren't bought by the end of the night.
Through his first three NBA seasons, Durant has made an annual event of spreading holiday cheer.
Last December, Durant gave out Nike bags filled with coats, gloves, hats and other items to about 60 children at an inner-city after-school program and then stuck around to play video games and shoot hoops with the youngsters. The year before, he took 26 needy children on a shopping spree in Seattle and treated them to dinner at a restaurant.
He said he hopes it shows his "commitment to the community and how much I like being here."
"I want to interact with the community outside of the games and things we have to do. I just want to be a part of this, and this is a great way to do it," Durant said.
Durant's event came amidst a series of charitable appearances by the Thunder during the holiday season. All of the team's players and coaches participated in a shopping spree for underprivileged families at a Target store last week, and in days and weeks to come, players are scheduled to give away hundreds of shoes to schoolchildren and the team will give out tickets to those who support a blood drive.
"We're a part of this community and without knowing it, we set a big example to kids. Just to go back and let them see us in person and interact with them, it goes a long way with them," Durant said. "I'm a big kid myself, and I like to hang around with kids as well. Whatever I need to do to help them out, that's what I'm willing to do."
The Thunder also pitched in for a Thanksgiving dinner for 400 at the City Rescue Mission and a toy drive benefiting the Salvation Army. Center Etan Thomas stopped by a Boys and Girls Club to deliver 480 turkeys to families as part of a nationwide 15,000-turkey giveaway in NBA cities by the National Basketball Players Association."We're giving them a turkey to take home, and some of the people can't afford it," said Thomas, the vice president of the NBPA. "Some people, this is really helping them out. This is a Boys and Girls Club where they provide three meals a day for the kids, and a lot of the kids, they need those three meals a day."