Marcus Thompson, a columnist for The Athletic, says that writing KD: Kevin Durant’s Relentless Pursuit to Be the Greatest was the toughest thing he’s ever attempted. The project would not have happened without support from his wife and daughter.
“As a matter of fact, it almost didn’t happen. Somehow they allowed me to keep going. It was total neglect,” Thompson says without a heavy-hearted laugh, during his May 23 visit to Bookshop Santa Cruz to discuss his new book about Durant, the Golden State Warriors’ reigning Finals MVP.
While working on the biography, Thompson used to start writing at 9 p.m., write until 4:30 a.m., and then wake up at 7:30 to take his daughter to school.
The KD book was much more difficult to write than Thompson’s previous biography Golden: The Miraculous Rise of Steph Curry. Before he began work on that project, he had already spent seven years getting to know Curry. By contrast, Thompson only had one year to get to know Durant, a notoriously mysterious figure. Now, the columnist says that he’s that done writing books—likely forever.
“I probably won’t do it again. I’m saying that because I don’t have any offers right now,” he explains, drawing laughter from the crowd. “But the way I’m feeling right now, I probably wouldn’t do it again.”
Thompson took questions from the audience. Here are a dozen things we learned about Durant and the Warriors from Thompson’s talk:
- HURT FEELINGS Now that Durant has been sidelined with a strained calf, Thompson says Durant is probably having a hard time watching Golden State easily mow over its competition without him on the floor. Some fans have even started to ask if the team really needs him. “I think it bothers him,” Thompson says. “He’s one of those guys who needs to be appreciated for how good he is. He feels like he put in all this work to be this good, and you’d better recognize. It’s clearly bothering him, because he’s going on social media, going after people. With KD, his life has been so unstable that I just think all those little things matter.”
- TALL TALE Thompson believes Durant’s desire to be appreciated was the reason he’s always listed himself as 6 foot 9 nine inches, even when many analysts have said that the small forward is about three inches taller. “I think that’s why he never said he was seven feet,” Thompson says. “He was like, ‘Man, if you think I’m seven feet, you think someone gave this to me. You think I won the genetic lottery.’ Like, ‘Nah, I earned this. So I’m six-nine.’ I really think that’s how he thinks.”
- STAY OR GO Thompson has been going back and forth on whether Durant will leave Golden State this summer in free agency. “Nobody knows, and he’s quick to tell us that—‘You don’t know what I’m thinking. You don’t know what makes me happy!’” Thompson says. For most of the season, Thompson figured that the 30-year-old would leave for another team, like the New York Knicks. But just two weeks ago, analysts were lauding Durant for being the best player in the world, and teammates were praising him for his outstanding performances, so Thompson began to think that Durant might stay. When Durant got hurt, everything seemed to change. He stresses that anything could happen. “Whoever sits down in front of KD is gonna have to do better than Steph, Klay, Draymond, Steve Kerr, Joe Lacob, Chase Center, Silicon Valley and a crowd that chants ‘MVP’ for him. Top that! I don’t know if the Knicks can do it,” Thompson says.
- BURNING PASSION Thompson doesn’t know how many fake Twitter accounts—often called “burner accounts”—Durant had, but he believes that the 7-foot small forward is officially done using that tactic to argue with critics. Lately, Durant’s been calling them out and not hiding behind anything. “I think he’s just willing to put his name on it,” Thompson says. He adds that Durant’s a kind, sensitive guy, and that’s why he takes criticisms to heart. Durant thinks of himself as a normal dude, so he doesn’t believe he should always have to rise above the fray when he’s getting slammed. Thompson admires Durant for speaking his mind.
- MAMA, THERE GOES THAT MAN Thompson loves Curry’s down-to-earth personality, especially the way the point guard loves his wife, which he says is not always easy to do in the NBA. “It’s hard to make her preeminent in that environment,” he says. Thompson is about to celebrate his 18-year anniversary with his wife Dawn.
- SUPPORT GROUP Durant’s business partner Rich Kleiman is Durant’s best friend, and Thompson isn’t sure that setup is in Durant’s best interests, especially when the Warrior player has had a rough day. “The people who really care about Kevin Durant want him to get a wife and a kid because he needs that anchor,” Thompson says. “I don’t think he has it.”
- DRAWING A LINE One audience member asked Thompson how he manages friendships with players versus his journalistic responsibilities. “Easy. We’re not friends,” Thompson says. “Very easy. As a matter of fact, me and KD had it out a little bit, and that was my question to him. He was like, ‘Aw man, ‘I thought we was friends.’ What is my wife’s name? They’re not my friends. I don’t hang out with them. We don’t go to dinner together. I’m doing a job. We have a great professional working relationship. I’ve had this problem before, where they automatically assume that, because I was young, because I was black, that I was on their side. But I have a child that needs to eat, and here’s the story. And I’ve been working on this journalism thing since I was in the 10th grade. I’m not sacrificing it for a millionaire.”
- SURPRISE REACTION Thompson says Durant’s former teammate Russell Westbrook, of the Oklahoma City Thunder, took Durant’s 2016 departure from Oklahoma personally because he had believed that his close friend was staying. “A lot of this stuff was his manager [Kleinman] playing both sides—saying ‘We’re staying, we’re staying,’ and then telling someone else, ‘We’re going, we’re going.’ They’re doing the same thing now. None of this Knicks stuff is coming out of nowhere. We’re not making this up. People behind the scenes are talking, and they’re talking to people close to KD.” Part of why Durant left, however, was reflected in how Westbrook handled that situation, Thompson explains. The guard, he says, has long had a domineering personality, although he believes Westbrook has grown into a better teammate.
- SILENT TREATMENT Guard Patrick McCaw mysteriously walked away from a lot of money this season in deciding to leave Golden State. There may have been personality clashes. “To be honest, I think he just got tired of Steve Kerr. But it’s weird because Steve Kerr’s one of those guys where if you’ve got a problem, he will talk to you about it, and he will probably work on it with you. Nobody cares about the end of the bench more than Kerr,” Thompson says. McCaw was coming off a hot rookie season, after which the team signed Nick Young, who played McCaw’s same position and competed with him for minutes. “He thought it was his spot. So you definitely have to have a certain level of discipline and patience and professionalism with Steve Kerr, because he will ghost you. You will be gone for a while, and he expects you to be ready,” Thompson says. He adds that McCaw, who’s had a quiet season and is now playing for the Toronto Raptors, never spoke up to the Warriors about his concerns, even when teammates reached out. “You don’t not call Draymond back,” Thompson says. “That’s your greatest ally. Draymond was like, ‘I called him twice. That’s it. Bye.’ Crazy, too. He’d be playing 20 minutes right now. It was just a weird situation.” McCaw did not play any minutes in the Toronto Raptors’ game six win last night in the Eastern Conference Finals.
- SPEAKING OF THE BENCH Thompson says the Warriors lost the 2016 NBA finals because they played Festus Ezeli and Anderson Varejao too many minutes. “Literally, that’s why they lost,” he says.
- NO AUTHORIZATION NEEDED Durant didn’t want to be an authorized partner in the book about him—a route that, if he had chosen it, could have given the player more leverage over what Thompson did and didn’t write. He also offered Durant an early manuscript. “I did give him a chance to read it when it was done: ‘If you want to hash a few things out, we can do that.’ But he passed on the opportunity,” Thompson says. “He’s probably reading it now.” He thinks that Durant and his crew may have their own book coming out. Thompson adds that Curry didn’t want to be an authorized partner in his book about him, either.
- HARD ROAD Thompson stresses that Durant had a difficult childhood. “It really made sense to me why, when people call him soft, it bothers him. It’s like, ‘There’s nothing soft about this. I should be dead!’” Thompson says, adding that Durant made good choices as a kid. “The part that I liked about him was that he always ended up doing the right thing.”