How social media DMs led to Kevin Durant playing pickup with high schooler during pandemic

Jason Simpson
5 Min Read
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The height of the COVID-19 pandemic was a strange time for many athletes and a trying time for countless folks around the world.

But for Denver Nuggets wing Peyton Watson, the odd circumstances were partly responsible for him getting a chance to play pickup with some NBA studs — including now-Phoenix Suns superstar Kevin Durant — when the youngster was still in high school.

It started when Durant was in attendance at one of Watson’s high school games during his junior season.

“Watson had an outstanding game,” wrote Bennett Durando of the Denver Post. “So did his brother, Christian. Durant was impressed by both. He and Peyton developed a line of communication via social media DMs. ‘I think I followed him, and then he might’ve hit me up first,’ Durant said. ‘I don’t know. It’s just one of those friendships that you don’t know how it started; it just organically happened. He’s been my brother ever since.'”

After the 2019-20 NBA season was paused due to the pandemic, Durant — who was rehabbing from the Achilles injury he suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals — was in Peyton Watson’s home state of California. It was then that the youngster’s camp heard from Durant’s with an invite to run some pickup.

For a day, Peyton Watson got the privilege of sharing a gym with players like Durant, Kyrie Irving, Christian Wood, Taurean Prince and Jaylen Hands. He held his own.

Durant reflected on it.

“It was actually one of the better days we had,” Durant said. “Because it was ups and downs trying to come out of rehab, and everybody trying to find their rhythm through the pandemic. So it was a weird time, but I think we got something out of it for sure. It’s a great environment. It’s one of those things that you always want to remember as you get older — those moments in the gym with no cameras, no practice jerseys, no refs. It’s just us purely hooping for the fun of it.”

Peyton Watson called it one of the better experiences of his life.

“One of the better experiences of my life,” Peyton Watson said. “Not only for my game and sharpening against the best players in the world, but also for my confidence. They threw me out there and they were like, ‘You’re one of us. You’re a pro just like us.’ That meant a lot to me.”

Peyton Watson’s presence that day opened the door for him to make some key connections in the basketball world. He ultimately entered the 2022 NBA Draft after just one season in college, a gutsy decision after he averaged just 3.3 points per game as a freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

He wound up being selected with the No. 30 overall pick in the first round by the Oklahoma City Thunder, who ultimately traded him to the Nuggets. He landed in the right spot, winning an NBA title in his first season in the league.

This season, the 21-year-old has seen an increased role with Denver, appearing in 69 games so far while averaging 18.2 minutes per contest. He has shown signs of growth and is averaging 6.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.0 assist per game while shooting 46.0 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from deep.

While the talent was always there for Peyton Watson, it’s anyone’s guess where his career would be now without that day of pickup years ago that opened some doors for him. It’s very possible that his career would be in a different place today, taking the butterfly effect into account.

But this is the only reality that counts, and the California native is now looking to add to a resume that already includes one NBA championship.

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