May 25, 2024

Kevin Durant’s NBA MVP speech 10 years ago remains the classic Mother’s Day gift

MVP acceptance speeches are common, but few are as memorable as the one Kevin Durant gave on May 6, 2014.

He delivered his speech five days before Mother’s Day, the latter part of it paying homage to his mother, Wanda. His final four words were as touching as any gift she’s ever received for the celebratory day.

“You the real MVP.”

Kevin’s classic acceptance speech highlighted a few individuals, but even 10 years later, nothing has stood out more than when he spoke of his mother, particularly after detailing some of the struggles he and his family experienced years before winning the 2013-14 NBA MVP award as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. That monologue helped shine light on a mother who helped groom her son into more than just a future NBA Hall of Famer.

The last line of the speech became an instant classic and still is a popular meme used when someone wants to show appreciation to a friend or family member. It was even the angle of a Lifetime television movie.

And Sunday, on a day when mothers are celebrated globally, Wanda Durant beams with pride. She isn’t just Kevin’s mother; she’s a legitimate voice in and outside the NBA, partially because of the ringing endorsement Kevin gave Wanda during an eight-minute-plus podium appearance 10 years ago.

“Mama Durant,” as she is affectionally called by many, is a motivational speaker. She’s an entrepreneur and a champion for the underserved.

Wanda is still referred to as “The Real MVP.”

“It catapulted me, to be quite honest. I was not expecting that outcome,” she said of the speech. “It’s given me a platform that I did not expect, that I’m grateful for.”

Wanda’s philanthropic efforts are visible. She is asked to speak to groups about parenting strategies and how she raised her sons. She also supports multiple nonprofits, including the Durant Family Charitable Foundation, which focuses on assisting at-risk youth from low-income backgrounds.

That 2014 speech helped make her a celebrity of sorts, someone who now needs a team to coordinate speaking engagements. She is also active with other NBA mothers who support one another and their children.

It’s almost baffling to Wanda that her son’s speech was 10 years ago. She said she recently spoke to Kevin, who now is with the Phoenix Suns, about the speech, how it’s managed to keep its vintage vibe and why it connected with so many people.

She believes it was the delivery. There was “no fluff,” she said. It was genuine. Kevin’s tearful words of appreciation struck a chord with basketball fans and non-fans.

“Even to this day, it still warms my heart,” Wanda said. “I’ll say probably eight out of 10 people that recognize me as his mom always mention the speech and how much it resonated with them because it reminds them of their journey and their mom. It’s surprising and somewhat surreal that it still has the impact today that it had 10 years ago.”

Kevin Durant escorts his mother, Wanda, off the court following a game in 2023. (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

A flashback to 2014 reminds fans that early in the speech, you could see Wanda clapping and saying, “That’s my baby.” Roughly a minute in, her emotions began to take over. Some of the words immediately touched home for both Wanda and Kevin.

“I’ve been through the toughest times with my family. But I’m still standing.”

“I think she just wanted to get me and my brother out the house a couple hours. But when I walked into the gym, I fell in love with it.”

Kevin, then 25, spoke highly of his Thunder teammates, singling out Caron Butler and Russell Westbrook. He praised his older brother, Tony, who offered daily support and taught him self-confidence and to “believe that I can do it when I didn’t think I could do it.” He also talked about the support from the rest of his family and close friends.

The final part of the speech, however, was dedicated to Wanda.

“I don’t think you know what you did,” he told his mother.

Wanda knew Kevin was going to mention her in the speech, but she didn’t know he was going to tell the story of a 21-year-old single parent raising two sons. He discussed living in an apartment with no furniture, but the family still found joy, safety and hope simply by sitting in an empty living room and hugging each other. All of the credit was to Wanda.

“We wasn’t supposed to be here,” a teary-eyed Kevin told Wanda. “You made us believe. You kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us.”

Kevin then finished the speech with the classic line: “You the real MVP.” And Wanda lost it emotionally. But she got a standing ovation. By the end of the speech, Wanda was being talked about just as much as Kevin’s stellar season.

She went from being the mother of an MVP to a face of positivity in the league and beyond. Athletes from 20-year starters to NBA rookies and two-way players know who Mama Durant is and are quick to show her reverence.

Anthony Edwards was only 12 years old when Kevin gave his speech. Wanda still remembers seeing the Minnesota Timberwolves star in an NBA game where she couldn’t remember his first name — but he knew her.

“I said, ‘That’s Edwards,’” Wanda said. “Sometimes (players) call me Ma Dukes. He said, ‘Ma Dukes, I know who you are,’ and I’m like, wow. Even the younger players, because they have seen the interaction that Kevin and I have had over the years, they recognize me, as well. That somewhat takes me back because I’m like, ‘How do they know who I am?’”

Honoring loved ones on Mother’s Day can be tricky with a son in the NBA. For most of Kevin’s career, he was in the middle of postseason contention. Wanda said her sons have given her some nice gifts over the years, but what’s most important to her has been the time spent with them.

It’s the expression of love she said she most appreciates.

“The most beautiful gift is that they want to talk to me. That warms my heart,” Wanda said. “The fact that they want to have general, everyday conversations with me about life and value my opinion are the things that are sweetest to me. I do like the gifts, too, but those things are sweeter.”

Now 35, Kevin is a two-time NBA champion, a two-time NBA Finals MVP and a 14-time NBA All-Star, in addition to being the MVP of the 2013-14 season. His speech has transcended generations in and around the league. Other mothers look to Wanda as they discuss the ups and downs that come with having a son in the NBA.

She looks at everything as a badge of honor.

“There’s always love, respect and honor given to me, and I’m so very grateful for it. I don’t take it lightly,” Wanda said. “I hold it dear to my heart, and I’m somewhat overwhelmed even thinking about it. You never think this would be a part of my son’s journey as a professional basketball player, that I would be afforded the opportunity to be one of the recognized mothers of the NBA.”

Perhaps the lasting legacy of Kevin’s speech is that his mother went from being his mom to “Mama Durant” for players across the league and for basketball fans alike. It’s a title of appreciation, particularly when it’s not coming from her children.

“When someone calls you ‘Mama,’ that means something,” Wanda said. “That has a level of respect and honor attached to it that I hold dear to my heart, and it doesn’t matter the age. I have grandmothers and grandfathers calling me Mama. It’s a level of accountability to me and a responsibility that I have to the fans.

“I’m very mindful of my responsibility, of being called Mama Durant. That means something to me.”

(Top photo: Jed Jacobsohn / NBAE via Getty Images)