When Kevin Durant shook the NBA universe to its core last summer by leaving behind the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors, the ripple effects were felt far beyond the hardwood.
In the offices of Positive Tomorrows, an Oklahoma City school for homeless children, president and principal Susan Agel wondered what Durant’s departure meant for the future of the school, which had worked with the former MVP dating back to December 2012.
“It’s one of those things that we sort of expected after he left Oklahoma City that, ‘Well, maybe that’s goodbye,’”Agel said.
On a Thursday night in December, some four years after Durant had first visited Positive Tomorrows, the superstar made it clear he hasn’t forgotten about the students.
“Oh, well that’s real life. Yeah. That’s real life,” Durant explained when asked about his recent decision to donate $57,000, via the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation, to Positive Tomorrows.
“Just because I left there doesn’t mean I stop building with them,” Durant said. “So, yeah. That’s totally separate from this NBA stuff.”
The $57,000 check that Durant cut will allow Positive Tomorrows to complete the purchase of some land where Agel plans to construct a new building, which will eventually enable the school to serve twice as many students as it currently does.
Last year, Durant gave $35,000 so that the school could renovate a kitchen, move a cafeteria and, ultimately, open up space for new classroom where 16 more students were enrolled.
“These are some very strategic gifts that he’s giving that are coming at really integral times for us that are going to make a big difference,” Agel said.
What’s not so easy to quantify is the heightened publicity that Durant’s involvement brings to the school, which is preparing to launch a capital campaign.
“The kind of visibility that Kevin brings to our program is priceless, frankly,” Agel said.
There is also the priceless impact that Durant’s appearances in the classrooms make on the students.
“The thing that I really remember, and this comes from his first visit to us, when he bought shoes for all the kids,” Agel said. “That was the first year he came, and he’d got a list of sizes ahead of time. He had a box of shoes for each child in their size, and Kevin actually got down on the floor and helped them put their shoes on.”
“That’s a picture that I really carry with me … this 7-foot-tall superstar crawling around on the floor putting shoes on the feet of homeless children.”
Durant’s departure from Oklahoma City remains a fresh wound for the students and the staff alike. No student has shown up in Warriors gear yet, and Agel joked that she felt like she’d “gone to the dark side” simply by talking to a reporter from the Bay Area.
“I mean, I was sad — I still am sad — to see him go,” Agel admitted. “But we’re really glad that we can continue the relationship. It’s bigger than basketball, frankly.”
Durant’s exit from the Thunder has also served as teaching point for the children at Positive Tomorrows.
“I think that, and this is one of the things that we work [on] with our students, is that you have to be resilient when things change,” Agel said. “I mean, we use everything as a lesson to work with our kids here who are growing up in poverty and facing a lot of chaos all the time. It’s just how you deal with changes. Change in your life.”
During his speech after winning the 2013-14 MVP award — when Durant famously called his mother, Wanda Pratt, the “real MVP” — he hit on similar themes. Durant recalled moving from apartment to apartment while growing up and how his mother would sometimes go to bed hungry so that he and his brothers could eat.
About a year ago, Pratt paid a visit to Positive Tomorrows.
“She heard about our parent support group that was meeting a couple of days later and asked if she could come to that,” Agel recalled. “She came and visited with the parents that were there, encouraging them and telling them her story about being a single mother struggling to make ends meet.”
On that day, Pratt donated a $10,000 check to start the Wanda Pratt Fund, which helps families get into housing or keep housing if they are facing difficulties.
Against that backdrop, Durant’s ongoing involvement with Positive Tomorrows comes as little surprise.
“I think Kevin has really understood — he knows at a deeper level — what some of the issues that the children that we serve are facing,” Agel said. “Just really from his childhood growing up, dealing with issues of poverty and all those kinds of things. He gets it. And so, he wants to be part of it. And we’re delighted to have him.”