Who Is Aunt Pearl? (and Why Does She Have A Sneaker Every Year?)

In his MVP acceptance speech in May 2014, Kevin Durant famously praised his mother Wanda Pratt, calling her “The Real MVP.” But every MVP needs the help of a supporting cast to prosper, and Durant’s Aunt Pearl played a key role in making him the man he’s become.

With Pratt working long hours at the post office, the job of keeping an eye on Kevin after school was often left to his grandmother Barbara and her sister Pearl, who lived with each other at the time. Each day, Aunt Pearl would fix Durant’s favorite snack, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and watch afternoon cartoons with him. The two formed an everlasting bond and the importance of family was instilled at a young age.

As Durant developed as a basketball player, he excitedly shared news of his accomplishments with Aunt Pearl. However, he eventually noticed that she didn’t attend many of his games. This was because she was battling lung cancer, which prevented her from doing much traveling. While Pearl cheered Kevin on from home, he continued to hone his craft. As a sixth grader, he’d take a bus to his grandmother’s house, then run 15 to 20 minutes to the local rec center to play.

Then there was the day in 2000 that changed Durant’s life forever. One night while hanging out at his grandmother’s house, he watched his beloved aunt live the final moments of her life. Kevin laid next to Pearl as the paramedics prepared to take her to the coroner. She had succumbed to complications from cancer.

The moment would have been too much for many kids to handle, but Durant endured, inspired by Aunt Pearl’s brave battle against the disease. 19 years later, he’s one of the best basketball players in the world, and still makes sure his aunt’s memory lives on.

new balance

In 2012, Durant and Nike introduced a pink-based colorway of the KD 4 with a pearl printed collar, tongue and cross-strap. In association with the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, the shoe was a tribute to Aunt Pearl, and is now an annual tradition.

“I made a promise to myself to always honor my Aunt Pearl for the example she set, and the encouragement she gave me to follow my dreams,” Durant told Nike.

The “Aunt Pearl” shoes have become some of the most collectible in Durant’s signature line and fetch big dollars on the second-hand market, but it’s important to keep in mind why they exist in the first place. Even with her life in peril, Aunt Pearl pushed forward and inspired Kevin to be the best that he can be. Now, as promised, her memory lives on.

Scroll down for a look at the full history of the line.

Footwear, celebrity