Take a moment to picture Game 7 of this year’s NBA finals. The score is tied at 89 apiece and the Warriors are desperately trying to make that dagger three-pointer to take the lead and clinch back-to-back titles. Now, picture that very same moment, except now imagine the Warriors having 6’10” Kevin Durant, arguably the best scorer in the game, as another option down the stretch.
When Durant made the decision to go to the Golden State Warriors and leave the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise, the place that drafted him second overall in 2007, the place that raised him into the man he is today, and the place that he “wanted to play [with] his whole career”, he did so knowing very well what the consequences would be. No longer would he be that quiet, lanky assassin that was well liked by most fans around the NBA, he would be viewed as one of the biggest villains this game has ever seen. Obviously after the events of this past week, Durant is ready to embrace his new role of villain.
Although I have consistently criticized LeBron James for “The Decision” and “taking his talents to South Beach”, it can be argued that Durant’s move to the Warriors is worse from solely a basketball prospective. First off, when LeBron ditched Cleveland there was not another star in place. It is certainly a myth that those Cleveland teams, which were winning over 60 regular season games, were bad, but they certainly did not have a player of Russell Westbrook’s caliber. Durant did not leave a team that was building. He left a team that was ready to win.
Next, Durant’s meeting with the Warriors was this past weekend, just over a month removed from when those same Warriors came back from a 3-1 deficit to squash Durant’s dreams of making it back to the NBA Finals. As Durant sat with the Warriors’ brass and listened to players like Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson, peers who had just bested him and his team on the biggest stage, express to him why he should become a member of their team – one has to wonder how he was not sick to his stomach. I know if I was in Durant’s position, I would have wanted no part of what the Warriors were trying to sell me.
However, it was clear from reports that Durant not only was intrigued by what he was hearing from the Warriors but also was enthralled by it. They sold him on the potential to win not one, but multiple championships, something Durant probably could not have accomplished by staying with Oklahoma City. Even if it was with a team who had just beat him and his city a month earlier, all he cared about was having the best opportunity to win.
Over the past week Durant has received plenty of hate from both NBA fans and analysts. We all saw Stephen A. Smith’s rant on ESPN when he called Durant’s move “the weakest he had ever seen from a superstar”. It is clear that Durant’s decision hurts the competitive balance in the Western Conference and the NBA at-large. I mean, the biggest threat to the Warriors in the West just lost its best player to the Warriors themselves. So the question everybody is asking now is: what does this move mean for the legacy of Kevin Durant?
When people look at the NBA record books and see that LeBron James has won three NBA Finals they don’t see an asterisk next to the first two that says “won with a super team”. For better or worse, most basketball greats are judged by the amount of titles they’ve won. If LeBron had stuck it out in Cleveland and only won one or two championships, people would have criticized him for not winning four or five.
Whether Durant is a coward or not is irrelevant to how history will remember him. People have to realize that if he stuck it out in OKC and did not win, no one would have had any sympathy for him. People would have remembered him as the guy who never could win the title, rather than the guy who was loyal to his city. If Durant is able to pull of multiple titles in Golden State, it will not say next to each one that he did it with the greatest super team ever assembled. The record books will simply say that Kevin Durant is a champion.
As an NBA fan, I am very disappointed to see Durant leave Oklahoma City. Himself and Russell Westbrook truly could have accomplished something special if they both had stuck it out, but it appears that they both were not willing to stay there long-term. Gone are the days where superstars like Kobe Bryant stay in one city their entire career and leave a legacy that lasts a life time. It is sad but true.
By taking his talents to Oakland, Kevin Durant clearly took the easy way out. He clearly was not willing to go the extra mile to get a title with Oklahoma City and rather wanted it to come easier to him in Golden State. Time will tell how much the Warriors team will actually benefit from this acquisition, on the heels of a historic 73-win season. However, if Durant is finally able to get over the hump and reach the NBA mountain top, history will not remember Kevin Durant the coward, it will remember Kevin Durant the champion and hero.