NBA PR flacks keep telling me that Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant is "just like any 22-year-old kid." They say he does not have a torrid affair going with his wallet or his mirror or his league-stomping 29 points per game. "Perfectly normal," they insist.
So I called their bluff. I met Durant in Chicago, and I brought along a perfectly normal 23-year-old kid -- my son, Jake. We all three met in a hotel lobby and plopped down on a couch.
"Let's compare lives! Want to?" I said.
Wages: Kevin makes an average of $17 million a year playing for the Thunder, plus $8.5 million a year from Nike.
Jake, a student at Chicago Portfolio School, makes about $5,400 a year as a part-time barista. That's $8.95 an hour, or about $103,649 an hour less than Kevin. Then again, Kevin doesn't get tips.
Home: Kevin rents a seven-bedroom, 10,000-square-foot mansion in Oklahoma City with its own theater.
Jake rents half of a 450-square-foot apartment. His bedroom has no closet, so he keeps his clothes on two chairs at the foot of his bed. It's above a stitch-'em-up medical center. "It's open 24/7," Jake says, "for round-the-clock stabbing convenience."
Cars: Kevin owns a sweet conversion van with TVs, an Xbox, and a pull-out bed. He also has a $128,000 Mercedes S63 AMG and a Maybach, whose price he won't discuss, though Diddy just bought his 16-year-old son one for $360,000.
Jake takes the bus or walks between home, his job and portfolio school. It's 20 minutes between all three. It forms a kind of ragged isosceles triangle, as does the hole in his right shoe.
Hopes and dreams: Kevin wants to win an Olympic ring, a mess of NBA rings and more NBA scoring titles.
Kevin wants to win an Olympic ring, a mess of NBA rings and more NBA scoring titles. Jake is trying to beat the high score on the Ms. Pac-Man in the laundromat down the street.
"How many [scoring titles] did Jordan win?" he asks.
"Whoa! OK, then 11. I can dream, can't I?"
How many rings would you like?
"How many years do most guys play?"
Stars play about 15.
"OK, then I want to win 12 rings. I'm not guaranteeing, I'm just saying."
Right now, he and point guard Russell Westbrook are averaging a combined 51.5 points a game. Nineteen years ago, Jordan and Scottie Pippen combined for 52.5 per game. Can the Oklahoma City Young Guns be that good?
"We can be as big as anybody if we work hard," Kevin says.
Jake is trying to beat the high score on the Ms. Pac-Man in the laundromat down the street. "I'm seventh right now, but the thing's been plugged in since the '60s, so "
Shopping: Kevin goes into Nordstrom "about every two weeks" and spends between $500 and $600. As we speak, he's wearing a beautiful high-collared cashmere white number.
Jake refuses much help from his fretting parents and is bent on making it mostly on his own, so he shops at Goodwill sometimes.
"It's sad when you're in there in October and realize you're the only one not shopping for Halloween costumes."
Recent moment of glory: Kevin was just named the Western Conference Player of the Week after scalding New Orleans with 43 points, and he will start for the West in the All-Star Game on Feb. 19 in L.A.
Jake just shimmied out on the ledge of his apartment building in a snowstorm, at 3 a.m., to unplug the stitch-'em-up medical center's huge neon sign outside his bedroom window. He did it with a deconstructed coat hanger and his roommate holding him by the pants legs. He had to. The sign was so bright he couldn't sleep.
"Really?" Kevin says, awestruck. "Man, that sounds like a movie!"
Annoyances: Kevin gets calls every day from people asking for something. "Shoes, clothes, tickets, money," he says. "A thousand here, $500 here, $25,000 there. I don't mind [giving it] if it's friends who're struggling. But people just think money grows on trees. My mom used to say that when I was a kid. Now I know what she meant."
Jake: "I know, right? Seems like my landlord is asking me for money every single month."
Favorite restaurants : For both, it's the Wendy's 99-cent menu, but only Jake is lucky enough to eat it nearly every day.
"Man, I wish we had a Wendy's near us," Kevin says. "Love it, man! I'd get the nuggets, a junior bacon [hamburger], some fries, a large light lemonade. Man, at [the University of] Texas, I did that every day before class. Now I never get to go!"
Some guys can't catch a break.
Charities: Kevin just gave $25,000 to a Washington, D.C., rec center to help refurnish it. This is one-fifteenth of 1 percent of his yearly salary.
Jake usually leaves his coin change in the charity jar by the Wendy's cash register. This works out to about $70 a year, or 1.3 percent of his yearly salary.
Bad habits: Kevin has already sent more than 15,000 tweets in his young life.
Jake has already lost more than 15,000 cell phones in his young life.
Money worries: Kevin thought about buying something crazy, like a boat, but thought better of it with the NBA's impending labor troubles. "There might be a lockout," he says. "I gotta watch it." After all, he has made only about $100 million so far as a pro.
Jake unplugs his stereo at night so as not to run up the electric bill.
College degree: Kevin left Texas after one year but is trying to get his degree, as he promised his mom. "At the rate I'm going, it's going to take 13 more summers," he says. "I don't think I'd get it if she wasn't on me to do it."
Jake earned his in four years from Wisconsin.
Future employment: Kevin wants to start his own record label. This would make him the 11,373rd NBA player with one.
Jake hopes to be an ad copywriter at a major Chicago advertising firm by next January.
Appearance: Durant can't put on weight even though, at 6-foot-9 and only 230 pounds, he is thin enough to be faxed. "The kid has tried everything," says famed Chicago trainer Tim Grover, who has worked with Jordan and Kobe Bryant. "Weightlifting, high-calorie diet. Nothing's working."
Jake can't put on weight, either, but for an entirely different reason. He doesn't have cable, but the local health club does. If he sneaks in and works out on the stair-climber long enough, he can watch his favorite player -- Durant -- play an entire game. Unfortunately, if he keeps this up, he will stand 6-2 and weigh slightly less than a 2-iron.
Embarrassing fathers: Kevin says his dad, a federal police officer at the Library of Congress in D.C., still thinks he's 20 years old. "He wears the same clothes I wear. It's kinda crazy."
Jake points an accusing finger at me. "I caught him in an Ed Hardy shirt the other day. That's not good. That's not good at all." They look at each other and nod solemnly.
The future: Both young men are polite, independent and thrilled at the way the future of their own making, whether they get there in Maybachs or Nikes.
Perhaps, one day, one of them will write an ad for the other.
"He'd be easy to write for," Jake says. "I mean, we have so much in common."
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