When Kevin Durant glided up the floor on that fateful fast break near the end of Game 3, rising up methodically, like a man with low blood pressure, to stick the most important three-pointer of his NBA career, the entire sports world exhaled–either in joyous or weary relief.
This was a moment as inevitable as any in sports since that July day when sportsmanship, good faith, and the very spirit of competition lost out to a man’s base desire to shut up idiots like Stephen A. Smith.
You can blame this seven-foot, sharp-shooting 2-guard for killing competition in the NBA, making a mockery of the entire season and forcing fans to choose between which manufactured superteam they’d like to see win it all.
But it feels like sports culture itself is just as much to blame, with the ringing, idiotic arguments we’ve had over the years about who’s great, who’s not, and who can’t win the big one?
Kevin Durant is a transcendent athlete, one of the very best basketball players of his generation, regardless of which team or super-team he plays on.
He was never “not good enough” to win big. That argument was always ridiculous. He just got beat by better teams.
He’s also not any better now than he was last year, when his former team blew a 3-1 lead to his current one. This may be Kevin Durant’s Finals, but he inserted himself here, crashing the stage instead of earning his way onto it.
That three-pointer made, his shortcutted quest nearly complete, Durant can now sit comfortably on the TNT set, insulated from verbal haymakers from Shaq or Kenny Smith of all people. He won’t be like Barkley, ringless, his greatness evidently unverified. He’s now got that blue check. And all that it means to him.
This is what this was all for, an entire NBA season and probably a few more to come, dampened because one guy needed that verification. Clearly KD, who has long been the second-best player in this league, was sick of seeing LeBron and Curry get all of the attention on the sport’s biggest stage, the labels like “winner” thrown at them, mostly because they had better teammates or an easier conference to navigate through.
So, he inserted himself into these Finals. He proved, once and for all, that there really isn’t such a thing as “guys who couldn’t get it done when it mattered most.” There are only arguments about them.
And just like that, our narrative about the legacies of today’s stars is interrupted. The enthusiasm about the playoffs and next season curbed.
Durant has made an emphatic statement, and now you wonder, at least in the sports world: If there weren’t stupid arguments, would there even be any arguments left to have?
Who knows if the Warriors would have made it here again without Durant. If he were still in OKC, it’s quite possible the Thunder would be here. San Antonio was within striking distance. Golden State appeared to be running out of steam, but who knows how they would have responded after last year’s heartbreak.
KD-to-the-Warriors has robbed us of knowing what would have happened to Steph Curry’s legacy. Could he have kept up that back-to-back MVP pace? Would he have continued to do the game-changing, completely ridiculous, downright outlandish things he did last year, like when he drilled that insane near-half-court game winner against Oklahoma City?
He doesn’t need to do the thought-impossible as often now as he did last year, and his game has taken a slight step back just as Russell Westbrook’s has made a leap forward.
Klay Thompson isn’t the same either. The guy who went for 38 points in one quarter and scored 60 in three quarters earlier this year can be held to 9 points on 3-of-15 shooting, and the W’s can still win by 20. He’s a third option, almost demoted to the role of 3-and-D guy.
We’ll never know just how much the Splash Bros. changed the game, and if they could have held their perch on top of it, after a 73-win season that fell short thanks to Steph’s bum ankle, Draymond’s dumb suspension, and the Cavs hoisting the trophy.
Legacies and narratives were probably always dumb. We kind of knew that anyway.
But at least they used to be fun.
Kind of like the games themselves.