SPORTS: Durant matures in his faith, game
"I've grown so much," Durant said of his faith.
"I'm coming from a guy who believed at first but was never really active in getting to know Him," the forward/guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder said. "I'm continuing to grow."
Durant, who was selected to the first-team All-NBA this season, has led the Thunder into the Western Conference finals against Dallas. He scored 40 points in a losing effort in Game 1 and 24 points in a 106-100 victory in Game 2 on May 19, helping to tie the series at 1-1. The Mavericks and Thunder play again on Sunday in Oklahoma City.
In the first round of the playoffs, Durant scored 41 points twice against Denver. He won the NBA scoring title (27.7) for the second straight year.
As Durant began developing his basketball skills when he was young, he also was developing his relationship with Christ.
"I was always going to church and knowing who He was," Durant said. "Once I got to probably 15 or 16, I started to follow more and more. Once I got to the NBA, I just stuck with it."
While admitting that the temptation battle is "tough," Durant keeps his focus on Jesus by being around other Christians who share his passion for learning the Bible and who want to become closer to Christ.
"I try to stay away from temptations as much as possible," said Durant, who carries a Bible in his backpack. Two of his favorite Bible verses are Proverbs 15:33 ("The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom") and 2 Corinthians 5:7 ("Walk by faith, not by sight"). He has tattoos of both.
Durant demonstrates his faith by the way he treats people "when no one is watching" and by "making sure I do things that Christ would do," he said. "I do it by helping people out as much as I can, just being a positive light. If they see me, I want people to smile and know that I would do anything for them."
Oklahoma City forward Nick Collison said Durant is unselfish and genuine and helps people because he wants to. "He is himself at all times," Collison said.
Durant credits Christ for that attitude.
He "makes us who we are," Durant said. "He is the Alpha and the Omega."
Memphis Grizzlies guard Greivis Vasquez -- Durant's teammate at Montrose Christian School, a ministry of Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, Md. -- got a firsthand look at Durant's early skills and faith and has seen both mature.
"He is really a strong Christian guy," Vasquez said. "He thanks the Lord for everything He has done. God has blessed him with an amazing talent and he's taken advantage of it."
At 6-foot-9, Durant has the talent to do things others don't. The way he handles the ball, shoots off screens and scores 3-pointers have been vital to the Thunder's success.
"We need him to score a lot," Collison said. "He has an incredible will to win and at the end of the game he is confident. He wants the last shot."
When the ball doesn't bounce Durant's way and adversity comes, his faith keeps him grounded.
"Through adversity I believe in Him and stick with Him," Durant said. "Plenty of times, especially when things are not going my way, I stick with my faith and stick with the things that got me to this point. After the storm, the sun came out."
Bill Sorrell is pastor of First Baptist Church in Whiteville, Tenn.