It's easy - and trendy - to be cynical about the NBA these days.
There are plenty of reasons to pile on the criticism, especially in the wake of the Donald Sterling fiasco. Billionaire owners and millionaire players continue to put themselves in precarious positions, whether it be with actions or words. They are distancing themselves more and more from the collective reality of the league's increasingly-disenfranchised fanbase.
All the more reason why Kevin Durant's riveting Most Valuable Player speech arrived just in time on Tuesday.
Normally calm and collected, Durant let the emotion flow in front of family, friends, fans and teammates. He was both introspective and retrospective, showing the kind of raw openness and vulnerability rarely seen among professional athletes in this day and age.
LeBron James is a generational talent, but so is Durant. For as great as LeBron has been, the two-time defending MVP was dethroned by Durant in a landslide vote this season - and it came with very little objection.
Durant had 25 or more points in 41 consecutive games, which stood as the third longest streak in NBA history. He won the scoring title for the fourth time in five years at 32 points per contest. Durant also joined Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor as the only players to average at least 32 points, 7 rebounds and 5.5 assists over the course of a season.
If there's such a thing as an unassuming superstar, though, Durant fits the mold. He's not the typical brash, chest-thumping alpha dog who demands both the ball and attention during a game. Durant is more of a recluse than reckless. His interviews are often short and to the point. Reserved and humble, but oftentimes, vanilla and even uncharismatic.
In other words, there are plenty of reasons to like Durant - even if you don't always notice him.
That should change with an MVP trophy in tow.
''I think we take it for granted," said teammate and former Fort Dodge resident Nick Collison. ''To be able to stay on for long periods of time - have to cut hard, catch the ball in the right spot and defend on the other end - is tough to do.
''To be able to show that shows that he has an edge to him. He doesn't take a night off.''
Last week, The Oklahoman - the largest newspaper in the state, based in Oklahoma City - published a now-infamous front-page headline with a large picture of Durant after a playoff loss to Memphis. It read, in bold, capital letters: ''Mr. Unreliable.''
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Yet Durant remains an easy target, almost as if his quiet professionalism becomes a weakness or a point of contention the minute someone tugs on his cape.
The NBA should do everything in its power to up the ante now and market Durant as the future of the league. He is a refreshing break from the shady personalities who have made today's game about everything other than the game itself.
When it comes to being a role model and an ambassador for basketball, Durant is as reliable as it gets.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org