If you had asked me last week who Kevin Durant is, I most likely would have responded that I have no idea. Furthermore, if you would have told me that he is a 25 year old basket baller who sports the number 35 and plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder that wouldn’t have helped either. And yes, if you told me he won this years MVP (Most Valuable Player) in the NBA, I doubt that would have made a difference either – I’m not afraid to share that I’m simply not much of a sports fan. I never really played competitive sports nor became a dire hard fan of a particular team. It’s just not my thing. But if you ask me that same question today, the answer, with the utmost respect and confidence would be a resounding ‘yes’!
You might ask what changed. Its very simple – I watched Durant’s acceptance speech after winning the NBA’s coveted MVP award last week. It was a remarkable display of humility and of gratitude to those who had helped him reach this point in his life. Beginning with God, Durant thanked all those around him; his fellow teammates and his family for helping him reach this point.
“I’d like to thank God for changing my life and letting me really realize what life is all about. Basketball is just a platform in order for me to inspire people” Kevin Durant
One of the cardinal principles of Judaism is gratitude – the necessity, ability and requirement to say thank you. It’s the very way Jews begin their day, modeh ani – I acknowledge and thank You God for having given me the gift of life. Kevin Durant beautifully reminded us of the reasons why gratitude is important.
There are many lessons we can derive from his 25-minute speech, yet two key lessons stand out above the others for me.
1. Recognizing the people around us and giving them thanks.
The acronym MVP stands for ‘Most Valuable Player’ – the awards purpose therefore is to recognize and award the performance of one unique player that past season. The coveted award is a celebration of the individual’s talent as determined by a panel of experts based on his performance, effort and skill on the court. Yet Durant chose to deflect the spotlight and to recognize those around him. He spoke about those around him who have helped him get through life’s challenges. He shared his deep appreciation for others. He spoke of the many challenges and adversities that he and his family faced, and despite those challenges, with the help others, he made it through. From young to old, he particularly thanked and showed tremendous respect to his teammates for the inspiration he draws from each of them.
Kevin Durant is a supremely talented basketball player. But what sets him apart from everyone else is his appreciation of the people around him. His speech showed that he does not take anything or anyone for granted.
“I had so much help – so many people believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.” Kevin Durant
We can all learn from Kevin. We don’t reach our goals on our own. Reaching a goal requires help. Let’s start appreciating what people do for us. As Kevin implied, we cannot succeed on our own.
2. Reflection and Memories are Integral.
“When something good happens to me, I tend to look back at what brought me here.” Kevin Durant
When we are faced with new obstacles and challenges, there’s a part of us that forgets all of the things we’ve already overcome. The people around us, our families, friends and associates form our support system and can remind us of those come-back moments when we need it the most. Reflection is a useful tool, especially when you have a network to share it with.
As a people, we are not only always aware of our past; we are commanded to do so. The Festival of Passover, which we just experienced, is designed in part to help guide us to a greater level of gratitude and recognition of the myriad of blessings we have.
Gratitude and Memory are so integral to Judaism, the two themes are found in so many daily prayers and rituals. Yet like anything done daily, over time it can become an act of rote, habitual lifeless activity.
Kevin Durant’s speech for me was a subtle reminder. We can all take a page from his book – lets be sure to appreciate those around us and remember to look back as a guide to know how we got to where we are today. As Kevin implied, we cannot, did not, and will not succeed on our own.