In an era when a multitude of athletes unabashedly seek to maximize their brand and exposure, excessively leveraging social media and reality shows, Kevin Durant is cut from a different cloth. While he is not a reluctant superstar, the 23-year-old forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder is unassuming, noncontroversial and exudes humility. Call him the anti-LeBron James.

Unquestionably, James has been a lightning rod for negative criticism and derision, much of it unfairly heaped on a young man who is a three-time NBA MVP and the greatest athletic package to ever play. Nonetheless, in his five years as a pro, Durant has been a model of loyalty and stability.

Unlike many of his fellow franchise brethren, Durant has not used his immense prominence to exert influence over an organization or chase the spotlight and glitz of playing in a big market city. He surprised many NBA observers by signing a five-year deal with the small-market Thunder in July 2010. There was little fanfare accompanying the announcement.

In his understated manner, Durant simply posted a missive on Twitter. “Extension for five more years with the Thunder…God is great, me and my family came a long way.” In another tweet, Durant paid homage to one of his former AAU coaches, Charles Craig, who was murdered in 2005 at the age of 35. “First time I cried in a while…RIP Chucky, we doin’ what we dreamed about.”

He wears No. 35 to honor Craig. Indeed, the 6-foot-9 Durant, still a relative baby, has traveled a long journey. His mother, Wanda Pratt, a constant courtside presence at Thunder home games, is a strong influence in his life and helps keep him grounded.

A native of Washington D.C., Durant is the creation of the fertile D.C. and Prince George’s County, Ma., area that for decades has produced a conga line of NBA and NFL greats. It’s hard to fathom that the 2006 McDonald’s All-American game co-MVP, the 2007 consensus National College Player of the Year as a freshman at the University of Texas and three-time NBA scoring champion once questioned if he was good enough to reach the NBA. Now he leads the Thunder into Game 1 of the Western Conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.

Inarguably, Durant is a bona fide mega-star, but most importantly, an even better man.