Soft. Cupcake. No competitive drive.
It came from everywhere. Fans. Media pundits. Players.
The amount of disrespect that fell on the shoulders of Durant in July 2016 and has continued to follow him ever since has been absolutely absurd, to the point where we actually have to commend Durant for handling it so well.
That chatter did not dissipate when Durant led the Warriors to a championship in 2017. He won the Finals MVP, but it didn’t matter. After all, he had joined a 73-win team. What did he think was going to happen, right?
Durant then proceeded to lead the Dubs to another title last season and collected his second straight Finals MVP award, but it still didn’t deter those who thought he lacked heart and did not stop the asterisks.
Enter 2019, a year in which Durant’s impending free agency has enveloped him and has actually taken precedence over the season as a whole. What will Durant do? Will he remain in the Bay Area? Will he head to the Big Apple? Would he team up with Kawhi Leonard on the Los Angeles Clippers?
Sure, the Warriors were favorites to win their third straight championship, but that all seemed like a mere footnote to the upcoming summer when Durant could potentially change uniforms for the second time in three years.
But then, things took a turn when Durant suffered a calf strain during Game 5 of the Warriors’ second-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets. Golden State went on to win that series and then proceeded to sweep the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals, further promoting the ridiculous notion that the Dubs didn’t need Durant.
However, people quickly began to change their tune once the Toronto Raptors jumped out to a 3-1 NBA Finals lead over the Warriors with Durant sidelined, and the discussion then transformed into whether or not Durant would return to rescue the Dubs.
Incredibly enough, Durant’s heart was once again called into question, as some questioned why Durant was sitting out while guys like Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Iguodala and Kevon Looney were all fighting through their own respective injuries.
Now, obviously, Durant is a grown adult who has dealt with plenty of criticism throughout his career, so the idea that he was “bullied” into playing in Game 5 is complete and utter nonsense, but nevertheless, Durant tried to give it a go on Monday night.
And he got off to an amazing start.
Durant poured in 11 first-quarter points, and the Warriors ended up having their best offensive quarter of the series. Golden State looked to be clicking again just like previous years, but then, in the second period, Durant put a move on Serge Ibaka and then tumbled to the floor, gripping his right Achilles. That was it. It was over.
The word is that Durant suffered a torn Achilles, which will obviously not only knock him out for the remainder of the finals, but may also keep him sidelined for all of next season and may completely alter his career going forward.
Naturally, everyone is feeling sorry for Durant on Tuesday, with many of these people neglecting the fact that they were the same individuals who erroneously questioned his competitive spirit for deciding to sign with the Warriors in 2016.
The same individuals who questioned his toughness for not returning from an injury that carried at least a six-week recovery period in four weeks.
Now, Durant’s life may have changed forever, and it’s because he tried to gut out an injury that he clearly was not ready to come back from, putting his entire career on the line in the process.
Durant knew he would be taking a risk. He knew that a re-injury could have dramatic implications on his upcoming free agency, but he also wanted to help his teammates win another title, perhaps one last time before he slipped out of Oakland and headed to New York in July.
And now, all of those same people who relentlessly ripped Durant for the last three years are looking pretty silly right now and have been categorically, unequivocally proven wrong in their assertions about Durant’s lack of fortitude.
The reality is that Durant did not have to play in Game 5. He could have prioritized himself over the team, and chances are, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the rest of the Warriors would have understood that.
But no. He decided to try and grind it out, knowing full well that he was not fully healed and that there was a serious risk of re-injury.
Say whatever the heck you want about Kevin Durant, but the fact of the matter is that he forever changed all of the comical narratives that fans, media members and even players have spewed about him over the last several years.
Let’s face it: all of the derisive things that have been said pertaining to his character since 2016 have always been beyond ridiculous, but sometimes, it takes a little dose of harsh reality to make people realize their wrongs.
On Monday night, Durant put everything on the line, and it was not to appease those who poked and prodded at his determination; it was to come to the aid of his brothers in a moment where they desperately needed him, and he ended up paying the price, and a potentially life-altering price at that.
Twenty or 30 years from now when we are discussing Durant’s legacy, the fateful night on June 10, 2019 will have to be a part of the conversation, as it demonstrated just how truly committed Durant is to winning and how much devotion he has to the game in general.
Get well, KD. The NBA is far better off with you, and now, none of your critics have anything left to say.