Superstar Kevin Durant was sniffling, getting teary-eyed and speaking with a cracked voice toward the end of his acceptance speech in 2014 after winning the NBA MVP award.
And he hadn’t even mentioned his mother yet.
He was talking about his brothers, his friends and his grandmother, thanking them for their love and support as he rose from being a suburban Washington, D.C., legend to one of the planet’s most recognizable players.
But when he finally got to discussing Wanda Durant—“And last, my mom … ”—about 23 minutes into the 26-minute masterpiece, plenty of folks were crying with him.
His expression of affection, emotion and appreciation sparked a viral video and made national news. It also caught the attention of Queen Latifah, whose Flavor Unit Entertainment produced The Real MVP: The Wanda Durant Story, which premieres Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on Lifetime.
The movie stars Cassandra Freeman (Inside Man, Single Ladies), who received Wanda Durant’s seal of approval for portraying the young, single mother struggling to raise two boys in Prince George’s County, Md.
“She said, ‘I cried so much watching you. You are me,’” Freeman tells The Root. “That’s what she told me. She said it was like watching herself.”
Some mothers might think they’re watching their own story, and many viewers might know someone in Durant’s situation. Roughly 70 percent of black children grow up in single-parent households, according to widely accepted estimates (pdf). By the time she was 21, Durant had sons Tony and Kevin and a crumbling marriage. She worked hard to provide a roof, food and clothing for her boys, largely on her own.
“It’s a great story,” Wanda Durant tells The Root. “The beautiful part is it’s not an uncommon story. It resonates with a lot of people.”
Early in the movie, Durant’s husband, Wayne Pratt, takes off his wedding ring, places it on a table and walks out as Durant cries while holding baby Kevin. In the film, Pratt appears sporadically throughout, offering some financial support, but apparently little else. He’s not an absentee father per se, but he’s probably close enough to make viewers dislike him.
“That shouldn’t be the case,” Durant says. “My sons have known their dad all their lives. We were young, immature and did the best we could. We’re a family now. It’s not about what he didn’t do. It’s about what he did do.”
Mainly, it’s about what Durant did. She finds a refuge at the local recreation center, where the boys sign up for basketball and coach Charles Craig becomes a strong role model. Young Kevin blossoms as a player with Craig serving as coach, mentor and adviser. Tragically, Craig loses his life to gun violence at age 35, which explains Kevin Durant’s jersey number.
That’s a down moment for Kevin Durant, but his trajectory is set. Wanda Durant, on the other hand, experiences a roller coaster of emotions as the boys grow older, leaving her to find herself. The intense drama had an effect on Freeman.
“I cried almost every day while shooting this film,” she says. “Every day was a high and a low. By the time I got home, I felt nauseous from going up and down so much. There are so many emotional scenes.”
None more so than Kevin Durant’s real-life speech, parts of which are interspersed in the film’s opening. It also provides the impetus for Wanda Durant’s discovering her voice and becoming an advocate for single mothers. She does more and more public speaking, sharing her experience and using it to inspire and encourage others.
“It really helped me define my purpose in life,” Wanda Durant says. “I have a passion for young women. I want them to see there’s a bright future, but they have to continue. Their sons might not go on to play basketball, but if they continue to support them and sacrifice for them, dreams can come to life.”
The movie ends with an extended clip of Kevin Durant’s speech, where we see Wanda Durant (and others) breaking down in tears. His salute to his mother still tugs at your heart, even if you’ve watched it a few times already.
“It’s a very common story,” Freeman says. “What makes it so extraordinary is her son becoming who he is. When he won the award, he didn’t have to make it about her, but he did. As a mom, she felt so validated that her kids saw what she did and appreciated it.”
It was the perfect gift for Wanda Durant a few days before Mother’s Day in 2014.
For those whose children might not have the platform or mindset to utter similar words, Wanda Durant’s story serves as their thank-you this weekend.