As the world awoke to the regular glare of phones and Ipads, the headline jumped off the page as if a magic eye puzzle had become clear whilst we wiped the sleep from our eyes :
It wasn't a schooner...
"My next chapter..."
Kevin Durant had made his choice. He would be turning his back on the town of Oklahoma City, a town that regarded him as a hero, THE hero, and joining a 2 time MVP and recent NBA championship winning team in Golden State. As the reality of that fact set in, we became lucid pretty damn quickly. Twitter feeds were opened, a select few were supportive, albeit shocked, but for the most part the vitriol began. How could he? How could he DARE to spurn the Thunder and sign with the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last year. Another historic collapse from OKC before a truly historic collapse from the Warriors. How dare he?! Is that what we were doing now? We were "cheating". Just joining the best offense of the last twenty years as one of the best offensive players in the last fifty years to create a “super team”? Yep. That's exactly what we were doing. But it wasn't cheating, it wasn't cheap, and it wasn't flippant. Durant knew exactly how this would be received. He knew exactly what waited for him on the other side of that article, but he did it anyway. Not because he wanted to "cheat", not because he was looking for the short cut, but because he was looking for greatness, he wanted immortality.
For all of us that want to jump up and down about how wrong this is, do the words “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” sound familiar? Because they should.
This is almost the exact same path that Lebron James took. A home town hero, his team had reached lofty heights off his back, but fallen short time and time again. Did Lebron join a current MVP, no, but he did join Dwayne Wade, someone whose hall of fame candidacy was well and truly rubber stamped before the Heatles took centre stage. Oh, and he brought Chris Bosh along for the ride as well. For those that have forgotten, he's the Kevin Love in this trio. He spurned his original team to go and join a team with a solid culture, a solid infrastructure, with nothing but talent and a desire for greatness. Lebron James, much like Durant, knew then that whilst this was NOT the easy road (go back and read some of those pieces around the time of “The Decision”, it makes the Durant stuff look G-rated), it would certainly look that way from the outside looking in. Both of these players were incredible at the time of the move, MVP’s in their own right, working on a career that would guarantee they were in the conversation with “the greats”.
That conversation in and of itself is a tricky one. If I ask you to rattle off the top 50 players of all time it won’t take long until you get to Steve Nash, George Gervin, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley. Unarguably giants of the sport. Instant hall of famers. Each of them with an asterisk next to their name. *No. *Championship. KD was willing to endure that short term pain for the long term benefit, as Lebron was. That benefit is not only winning a championship, but the gift of never ever having the discussion of the asterisk sitting next to your name on a list someday. A legacy without a caveat. Chris Paul is mocked every year come June for never even making a conference finals, do you think he would trade some personal cache’ for that to never come up again. Ever. It’s a no brainer. He'd stop yelling at people for at least 7 minutes to earn that right.
These days we don’t discuss if LeBron James is a villain, we don’t. It’s over. He’s now the undisputed #2, and for some people, starting to enter #1 territory. Do you know why we don’t have that conversation anymore? Is it because he went home? Nope! It’s because he WON A DAMN CHAMPIONSHIP. Full stop. Exclamation mark. All was forgiven. The monkey was off his back. We started to appreciate him, who he was, how he played, what he brought to the game. The genius of his move to Miami. Being a step ahead. If he had never won in Miami, he’s still a villain. He’s mocked relentlessly. The Asterisk is still sitting next to his name. He’s the great player that just couldn’t get it done when it counted. Once again, go and look up some of those articles after the Heat lost in the first finals of the big 3 era.
LeBron couldn’t get it done, he was a choker, and boy didn’t we love to let him know about it. We revelled in it. The short-cut didn’t work. Until it did. 4 consecutive finals, 2 championships, and a triumphant return home. A triumphant return home where he recreated another big 3, but we don’t seem to harp on that point when we discuss LeBron these days do we? It’s like a little dark secret no-one wants to put in to the light. You know why? Because LeBron brought home championships , and championships, they hold weight.
So before we carry on with this "Durant is a coward" storyline, think about this… if Durant finishes his career with 3 championships and another MVP, will it matter? Will we care how he got there? Or, like James, will we learn to appreciate his brilliance, and appreciate the bravery it took to look past the short term, look past the snide comments, and recognise that his whole motivation was the pursuit of greatness, the hope that he would reach that pinnacle, that he could wipe that asterisk away from his name forever. That in thirty years time when he's walking to his seat at All Star Weekend in Seattle, the ticker tape under his name will say "NBA Champion", or it won't.
7 games in June control the narrative now.
Redemption, or an asterisk.