DETROIT: Kevin Durant was fresh off a 43-point performance in a comeback win with the Detroit Pistons when he faced someone many thought would follow in his footsteps until the final few years.
The Eastern Michigan sophomore had just finished a 19-point game in a 79-77 win over Detroit Mercy and was in the bowels of Little Caesars Arena waiting to talk to Durant.
Not only Durant, but also Kyrie Irving gave Bates words of encouragement in a long hug before the Brooklyn Nets left Detroit on Sunday.
Bates recently received an 18-month suspended sentence after a gun was found in the car he was driving in September. He pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge last week, and The Detroit News reported that the conviction will be expunged from his record if he successfully completes probation.
“I like that he’s going the opposite way in life,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “Leaving school early, moving from Memphis, they were arrested. Passed some s***. You have to go through some hardships in this life to really understand where you are.
“He’s playing good ball now. He’s been through some trouble. He’s a little more grounded.”
To be clear, Durant did not approve of Bates’ arrest. He was simply describing the entirety of Bates’ journey and how difficult it is to get to the next level despite the skills and background. Durant has followed basketball at all levels, so it was more than just encouragement from Bates; looks like there’s a real investment in him.
Bates has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and won the 2020 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year, but he has yet to live up to his promise. He is averaging 18.9 points and 4.9 rebounds on 46% shooting from the field and 39% from 3-point range for Eastern Michigan.
As a prep star from Ypsilanti, Michigan, Bates had a smooth jumper and is tall and lean like Durant was when he came up to the Washington, D.C., area. Durant resisted the urge to stay in the area for college and didn’t give the Washington Wizards serious consideration during free agency, but he believes being home might be better for Bates.
Bates’ father, Elgin, was with Emoni as he posed for pictures with Durant and Irving.
“He’s at home. He has a support system,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “It can be worse when you’re away from home and you don’t have that influence around you and you’re running after other guys. It’s good to see him out with the ball right now.”