SAITAMA, Japan — Halfway down a crowded hallway that helps illustrate his point, one of the greatest basketball players in the world leans against a railing and talks about the challenges of coexistence.
A three-time NBA champion squeezes past him. So do a couple of other All-Stars, followed by the league’s leading scorer from the last two seasons combined, and three participants from the most recent NBA Finals. Kevin Durant considers these men his contemporaries, and he sounds sincere when he says he’s “trying not to step on toes.”
Then Durant finally notices him: the broad-shouldered kid in the Team USA jersey who’d been standing right behind him during all of this, grinning.
“I’ll step on his toes, though,” Durant says, shaking his head at Keldon Johnson before busting into a smile.
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There are plenty of reasons why Johnson, the irrepressibly energetic 21-year-old Spurs forward, shouldn’t fit in here. Not only is he the youngest member of the United States’ Olympics basketball roster, he’s the least accomplished, and by far the least famous.
But there are two types of popularity at play here. The first is the kind that exists out in the world, where Durant, Damian Lillard and Draymond Green get recognized everywhere they go, even in Japan. Johnson doesn’t have that yet.
The second kind is popularity inside a locker room, where seemingly…