The Washington area has produced some of the greatest players in basketball history. Longtime sportscaster Glenn Harris, a District native and Howard graduate, puts Hall of Famers Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing, Adrian Dantley among his local immortals along with John Austin and George Leftwich. Ranking more recent Washington hoops superstars, Harris chose Grant Hill, Johnny Dawkins, Michael Beasley, Len Bias and a man who'll be in the spotlight at Verizon Center tonight, Kevin Durant.
In his fifth NBA season, it's no longer the same thrill that it once was for Durant to play in the Phone Booth on F Street, but the Washington area is still special. It's home and where his basketball dreams began.
"Growing up, I wanted to be the best player in my neighborhood (in Suitland)," said the 23-year-old Durant, a first-team All-NBA choice the past two years for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who visit the woeful Wizards tonight. "I wanted to be the best player in the state and (that) the area's ever seen. That's always been my goal. Guys like Elgin Baylor, Adrian Dantley and Dave Bing, it's tough to pass those guys. I'm a steady worker and my project's not over yet. Hopefully I get there. Those guys paved the way for me. I'm very appreciative of them and all the players (before me) that played overseas, played in the league, that went to college. I look up to them and I thank them."
Durant starred at National Christian Academy in Fort Washington and at Montrose Christian in Rockville before being named Player of the Year in his lone season at the University of Texas (the only freshman ever so acclaimed) and then onto the Seattle SuperSonics (now the Thunder) as the second overall selection in the 2007 NBA draft and Rookie of the Year honors in 2008.
Two years later, Durant and Co. pushed the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers before succumbing in a tight six-game series. Last spring, OKC reached the Western Conference finals before falling to eventual champion Dallas.
But Durant, whose bookish-looking glasses add to his wise-beyond-his-year demeanor, hasn't forgotten that his teams were a ghastly 43-121 during his first two seasons. So he can relate to the struggles that John Wall, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, and the 1-12 Wizards are going through now on top of last year's 26-56 campaign.
"Keep faith, man," Durant said when asked what advice he would give the 21-year-old Wall. "You've got to go through tough stretches. I've been through that for two years in this league, losing (121) games. .. He works hard. The team works hard. Just keep faith in your hard work and things are going to change. They have the right talent here, the front office is doing the right thing. In no time, they'll be pretty good. ... Rome (wasn't) built in a day. You hear that a lot, but it's pretty true. It took some patience."
That's a commodity that can be in short supply for the Bullets/Wizards and their fans after three decades with little success, but Wall and his cohorts would be smart to listen to Durant.
WUSA-9's Sports Insider, David Elfin, has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of five books on the Redskins including the new "Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History."