Imagine Kevin Durant as a skinny, timid teen being told to shoot by his middle school point guard who saw so much potential all those years ago.
He needed a little urging back then. Much of it came from star San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who fondly recalls his days passing to the future NBA star.
Bowman, who claims he was the superior player at Drew Freeman Middle School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, used to encourage the lanky Durant to be aggressive, to take it to the hoop with authority. Durant already measured more than 6 feet tall at the time and would rapidly add inches in the upcoming years.
“Can you believe we had to tell him to shoot?” Bowman said last week at Levi’s Stadium while relaxing after football practice in Santa Clara, California.
“Yeah, we had to tell him to shoot,” Bowman said. “We knew that he could play the game and he would eventually get better, but how tall he was, back in the day if you were that tall you would be in the post or you would be in the paint. This guy was on the wing. You could see the talent there. Eventually, as you see now, he grew into it and became a great player.”
Durant insists all he wanted to do was create opportunities for others.
“I would just always want to please my teammates, so I would pass up a shot to get somebody else a look,” Durant said. “I always had that trait and that kind of turned into not being aggressive, if that’s what it was called. But I was more so just catering to my teammates, trying to make them feel comfortable. And at a young age, NaVorro being such a leader that he is, he knew that I had some pretty good talent at that age and he just told me, ‘Go out there and just play.’ As a kid, you need that, you want that validation from your teammates. Especially starting off early when I started to take basketball really, really serious, just a couple words from him meant a lot.”
They’ve since reunited in the Bay Area, Bowman cheering for KD to win his first championship with the Warriors. Bowman plans to be there in person at Oracle Arena this week. Game 1 against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers is Thursday night.
The Maryland boys’ paths crossed before middle school, as opponents in AAU ball – Durant figures around age 11.
As each chased professional dreams over the next decade, they pushed one another from afar without even knowing it, taking great pride in their shared “DMV” – D.C., Maryland, Virginia – roots and making it big in their respective athletic pursuits.
“We really grew up together. He always played Pee Wee football and you would walk to the field and you’d see NaVorro wearing a No. 99 jersey, all black on with a visor, just bigger than everybody else,” Durant said. “You didn’t really know who he was until he took his helmet off. But you could tell that he was on another level, just his focus, just how much he wanted it, his energy as a kid and then it just continued to grow. I knew we kind of inspired and pushed each other without even having to say anything.”
From age 12 through high school, Bowman would play basketball all day at a 24-hour gym, sometimes going from 8 a.m. until midnight. Durant would join him sometimes, though he lived on the opposite side of town. They knew the same people, and where to land a competitive pickup game.
By eighth grade, scouts flocked to see KD. Bowman attracted a few, too.
Bowman was recruited by DeMatha Catholic High but didn’t want to attend an all-boys school, so he went to nearby Suitland. Durant spent one semester at Suitland, then left for Montrose Christian. That’s where his career took off.
Several prominent schools recruited Bowman for basketball, but he saw a future in football and wound up at Penn State.
“I just made a business decision, knowing that I wasn’t getting taller,” the 6-foot, four-time All-Pro said.
Now, Bowman is getting a thrill as an up-close spectator – supporting a dear friend.
He sent a text message to KD after the Warriors’ sweep of San Antonio last week.
“I had to congratulate him on his success and the choice he made. I know it was hard and challenging but it’s about winning a championship,” Bowman said of KD leaving Oklahoma City. “I think that was his choice and why he made it. I texted him, ‘I know you’re excited to be where you are and accomplish what you’ve accomplished, let’s go get it, let’s get it taken care of.’ ”
Durant is pulling for Bowman as he comes back from another injury, this time a torn Achilles.
“Once I made it, I knew that he was next up, and it’s kind of come full circle from playing eighth grade ball together to us living right down the street from each other. He comes over all the time and he comes to games,” Durant said. “It’s one of those legacy things that we’ll sit down and talk about forever, people from our area just for this to come together like this is divine and it’s special. I have a friend for life in him.”
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review's sports newsletter
Get the day's top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.