On Monday night Kevin Durant’s 2017 NBA Champion t-shirt was damp with champagne. The goggles that protected his eyes from bottle corks and alcohol drops dangled from his neck. A smile as true as his jumpshot sparkled from ear to ear. He had just won his first title and was the series’ MVP.
Sitting in for a post-game SportsCenter interview with ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt, he was asked what he now sees in himself after accomplishing such a feat. “Nothing,” he responded. “This doesn’t complete me. I already knew who I was before this even happened. I’m going to continue to be the person I was yesterday.”
On the surface, this answer could seem like complete bullshit. Like, dude, YOU’RE AN NBA CHAMPION, THE BEST PLAYER ON THE BEST TEAM IN THE BEST BASKETBALL LEAGUE ON EARTH!
But on second thought, I understand why he’d say that. Today and, I presume, throughout the rest of the summer, many will write their think-pieces and essays about how—at last!—Kevin Durant’s decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder last year as a free agent to join the Golden State Warriors (the team that kicked him out of the playoffs that year) has been vindicated.
The idea is that his decision to go to a better team, one likely to go on several future championship runs with or without him, wouldn’t have been valid or accepted by the the peanut gallery unless he performed spectacularly (he did) and won this year. And like I briefly noted last summer, that’s dumb. Mostly because the man made a decision for himself. As the author of his life story, no one but him has the right to put their pen on his pages.
Sure, Kevin could have done things the “hero” way and continued to toil and chip away year after year in a small town as half of the one-two punch Russell Westbrook completed. Maybe they would have gotten to the finals again (OKC had been before in 2012, and lost to the LeBron James-led Miami Heat). Maybe. But KD decided the next chapter of his life would go in another direction.
Then came the ridicule. People called him weak, soft, pathetic even. All because he didn’t do things how XYZ legendary veteran who may or may not have won a champion by staying “loyal” to the team that drafted them or was on a team where they were one of a maximum two star players (ie: Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller…).
Hell, even Nike released an ad right after his Finals-sealing Game 5 victory that addressed the naysayers—a minute’s worth of pundits arguing about Durant’s supposed mental and physical flaws and ending with him a champ in a confetti storm. “DEBATE THIS,” it closes. A classic, well-articulated “Fuck you, hater!” without being too crass for network TV.
So I totally get why Kevin would say he’s the same guy he was before the locker room bubbly bath. It’s a mix self-assured confidence and not wanting to let us know he gave a shit about anyone else’s opinions. Though he might admit later that he heard the chatter and that it motivated him a tad bit, I doubt Durant will ever say that he ever felt that he needed to be vindicated for his controversial choice.
If anything KD probably felt that he made the right decision after training camp and a few games with the Warriors during Fall/Winter 2016, when he was enjoying the music that booms out of practice facility speakers while Coach Kerr is running through Xs and Os. Or when he realized that playing for Golden State really is as fun as it looks on TV, with Steph Curry joyously splashing threes launched just inside half court and eagerly throwing him no-look passes on the next possession. Or when he got emphatic encouragement from forward Draymond Green.
Kevin Durant wasn’t waiting for anybody’s approval. He gave himself the okay, And now he’s the champion he always wanted to be. Critics can say they don’t like how his story played out. But there’s no debating that.