Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant is rich, famous, an NBA champion, a former league MVP and an African-American. That last trait is something Durant says he has come to identify with more in recent years.
"Just kind of seeing how rough it is for an average black man, you know what I'm saying? And on top of that, a black man makes one mistake ... I see how far we get pushed down," Durant told the San Jose Mercury News.
Durant says that growing up near Washington, D.C., he was witness to the perils of being black in the inner city, but being an athlete kept him out of trouble.
"Man, as a basketball player, it's a thing in my neighborhood. Like, East Coast, if you're a basketball player, people know you as that, they know you're focusing on basketball," Durant said. "Nobody really tried to get me to be in the street life because I was either always walking to the gym or I was always in the gym.
"I had friends that got into bad s---, as far as drugs, as far as hanging around the wrong crowds, as far as just trying to make money some way, because we're stuck. It's not necessarily a fact that we're so in love with the bad s---, or the stuff that's illegal, it's just like, our people are taught to survive. So if you put us in a neighborhood, no resources, no help, nobody to just be there for us ... what else can we do but make us some easy s--- to make us some money? My mom grew up on that, my brother grew up on that."
Durant, who is in his second season with Golden State, said that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to protest during the national anthem last season contributed to his new outlook.
"It definitely put me in a different place because we just started talking about stuff that's always been going on," Durant told the newspaper. "You tend to just focus on what you know, or focus on what you do every day, and sometimes you can be so far removed from where you grew up or from home that you don't realize what's going on back there. That's not because you're not woke, or you're not involved. You want to set that aside because you see a better life and you want to focus on that, but you also have to realize that you left home for a reason. So you kind of bring something back so you can help elevate where you come from."
Durant said self-reflection also helped alter his view. Basketball shielded him from the worst aspects of his surroundings, but he wondered what he would be if he weren't a basketball player.
"I didn't have it as rough when it comes to that, as far as social or systematic oppression or any social issues. They didn't really apply to me because I could put a ball in a basket," Durant said. "Just me saying that kind of woke me up a little bit, like, 'Damn, that's all I'm good for?' Like, if I wasn't a basketball player, what kind of man would they look at me as, you know what I'm saying?"
The question of his worth came up in the wake of the backlash he received from choosing to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Warriors before last season.
"It's been a year straight of you calling me all types of names, telling me this, telling me that because I decided to play basketball in another place. Look how stupid that sounds when we got bigger issues going on, we got people that need help, that need our attention, and we're focusing on ... It's easy to lose focus as humans, so easy, and we're focusing on this. I'm going to be here for a long time, so you going to be mad for a while, and [if] you'd rather be mad for a while than just accept it, that's on you."