'Something' explains humble Thunder star

Here in Oklahoma City, folks are just a bit excited about a basketball team called the Thunder.

A USA Today column today by Mike Lopresti made me chuckle:

And now, the question never posed before at this level of the postseason in any major professional sport.

Who here is pulling for Oklahoma City?

Never mind the usual bright lights and glitzy big cities. A lot of the familiar gothams are missing. This time, the road to the NBA Finals goes through an oil field on Route 66.

For the record, a few of us do have running water in this small town of 580,000 people -- 1.25 million if you count the entire metro area.

As the Thunder play the Texas rival Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals, Oklahoma City's star former Longhorn -- Kevin Durant -- is generating quite a bit of media attention.

Over the weekend, ESPN.com published a 5,000-word profile with this simple title:

Kevin Durant humble in the heartland

The story focuses on what makes the 22-year-old, two-time NBA scoring champion tick. The writer weaves a fascinating tale as he explores Durant's background and major turning points in his life:

Something has made him this way. Something has made Durant probably the least pretentious megastar in pro basketball. He'd rather have a key to the gym than a key to the penthouse. It may sound clichéd, but he really is usually first to practice and last to leave. He's not clamoring to take his talents to South Beach; instead, he just re-upped for five more years with Oklahoma City.

"Oklahoma City's got a basketball team?" he was asked during another stroll in the mall one day.

"Yeah, we're relatively new," he answered.

It's a riveting, revealing story. It's an educational piece for anyone who wonders how Durant -- and the Thunder -- went from a 3-29 start just a few years ago to one of the elite teams in the NBA.

There's just one major flaw.

This is GetReligion, so you may be able to guess what it is.

Religion ghosts haunt this piece throughout. The role of Durant's Christian upbringing and the influence of faith in his life make cameo appearances in this story. But the writer never seriously examines either. In fact, he almost seems to go out of his way to avoid meaty discussion of the subject.

We find out that Durant's mother took him to church on the weekends, but then the piece quickly makes a detour to weekdays at the rec center. We find out that Durant played high school basketball at the National Christian Academy, but then the piece quickly makes a detour to famous college coaches and free sneakers. We find out that Durant turned around a rough spot in his basketball career when he stopped snoring in church, but then the piece quickly makes a detour to, well, basketball statistics -- with no explanation of how church benefited his playing.

You get the idea.

In a 5,000-word story, the writer can't help but include a few quotes where Durant mentions God. But each time, God disappears as quickly as a fast break.

The closest the piece comes to getting religion is this, and even here, it misses the net by about half a court:

What's made him this way is his soul. He recently purchased a 3,460-square-foot home in the upscale Gaillardia section of Oklahoma City. Just when he was reveling in the scale of it all, he began talking with one of community's security guards.

The Oklahoma City bombing came up, and the guard mentioned he'd lost his wife in the explosion. Durant, who had a bible in his backpack, told the man he'd pray for him.

Lowercase bible? That's not AP style. I wouldn't figure it would be ESPN style.

I'm still waiting to read a story on Durant's faith that goes below surface level. The Oklahoman had a spot story last month on Durant committing to read his Bible every day, but it didn't delve all that deeply. The Dallas Morning News mentioned the Bible in Durant's backpack (and even capitalized Bible) but didn't address the faith issue. I did come across an interesting Beliefnet interview with Durant on faith, family and fame. And Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel had a neat column on the Thunder's lack of success when they don't rest on Sunday.

As for the Thunder-Mavericks series, I'm relatively new to the Oklahoma City bandwagon (baseball is my sport). But I'll go ahead and make a bold prediction: Thunder win in six games.

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