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Kevin (Daniel Bellomy) and his mom (Cassandra Freeman)
Kevin (Daniel Bellomy) and his mom (Cassandra Freeman) discuss his future Photo: Bettina Strauss and Sergei Bachlakov © 2016

The Real MVP movie: Kevin Durant’s inspiring mom struggles and shines

When NBA superstar Kevin Durant received the professional basketball league’s 2014 Most Valuable Player award, his moving acceptance speech honored his mother’s crucial role in his success. He named her “the real MVP.” The standing ovation and subsequent media groundswell confirmed that something significant had just happened, something transcending the game.

Now, Lifetime Television brings the inspirational backstory to a wide audience. Premiering Saturday, May 7 – Mother’s Day weekend – The Real MVP: The Wanda Durant Story portrays a touching, heartwarming tale of love, faith and persistence amid struggle and sacrifice. Producers include Queen Latifah, Shakim Compere, and A+E Studios.

Struggling single mom

Her husband absent, Wanda found herself a de facto single mother of two at age 21 … still with some growing up to do. She and her sons Tony and Kevin lived with her mom. Wanda’s somewhat childish impulses to live for the day and enjoy life with her friends sometimes trumped budgeting and caring responsibly for her sons.

Jolted into reality by her gracious but tough-loving mother, Wanda the postal worker moonlighted as a freelance hairdresser to afford an unfurnished apartment.

To help build character in her sons and keep them off the streets, she enrolled them in a basketball program at a local recreation center. The sport and their coach taught the boys discipline and teamwork, just as Wanda tried to model at home. She emphasized goal setting, hard work, and reconciling quickly when brotherly disputes arose.

Both boys excelled at hoops and eventually played in university. Kevin left the University of Texas for the NBA after one year. Professional stardom and Olympic gold awaited.

Immaturity, depression and faith

The Real MVP is frank about Wanda’s struggles and foibles. Youthful immaturity, bouts with depression, even contemplating suicide reveal a flawed but faithful woman who can connect with others experiencing similar circumstances.

The film also clearly portrays faith’s importance in Durant family life. Wanda’s mother sings to little Tony and Kevin: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” (At times in my life, I might have dismissed that affirmation as childish platitude. Yet world-class intellectual/theologian Karl Barth – years earlier – said that verse summarized his life’s work.) She prays with her daughter as Wanda struggles to make ends meet and raise her sons.

The faith lessons seem to have rubbed off on Kevin. After his Oklahoma City Thunder lost the NBA finals to the Miami Heat, his pain was intense as he cried in his mother’s arms. Later, on reflecting, he appreciated the learning and growing experiences he’d had with his teammates. It reminded him of one of Wanda’s favorite statements in the Bible, Romans 8:28: “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.”

Role model; motivational speaker

Kevin’s said as he works on his game, he also focuses “on growing spiritually, walking even closer with the Lord and becoming the person he’s called me to be.” He’s emphasized his desire to be a good husband and father. His character has become a shining example for youth and adults.

Wanda, now a motivational speaker, encourages single mothers. At one Holiday season Tulsa event, she cautioned against gift giving focused on the latest toys, emphasizing that what their kids “really want is you because that’s what they’re going to remember.” She suggested instead distributing – with your children – hats and gloves among the homeless community.

Moms can teach their kids the meaning behind the Nativity scene, she noted. And, as the Tulsa World paraphrased her, “help them to learn Jesus just as they know all of Beyonce’s songs.”

“Make Jesus a family member of yours,” Wanda advised. Wise counsel from this faithful mom.

The Real MVP: The Wanda Durant Story premieres May 7.

Lifetime Television and this movie are available via television in North America, as well as digitally worldwide via www.mylifetime.com.

Rusty Wright

— by Rusty Wright

Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. www.RustyWright.com

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