Golden State was a few possessions away from winning its second straight NBA Finals.
That kind of letdown, in Game 7, with all the elevated pressure that came from a historic 73-win season, was supposed to hurt — for a while.
Not even a month later, though, on July 4, the Bay Area was celebrating as the rest of the sports world tried to make sense of the era-altering announcement that Kevin Durant is going to join the Warriors.
Oklahoma City collectively voiced its dismay in LeBron 2010-esque fashion, burning jerseys and unleashing every pronounced form of hate you could conjure on social media.
Thunder fans have every right to be as upset as they are today, tomorrow and in the days, weeks and years to come. They just lost the man who helped build their only pro team in the state into a championship contender that reached the Western Conference Finals or better four of the last six years.
Durant was the real MVP from 2014, a seven-time All-Star, All-NBA six times, the scoring champ four times, an Olympic gold medalist — I mean, if you haven’t heard of Durant by now I’m not really sure why you’re reading this. There’s probably a book on tips for being good at Civil War re-enactments near your stash of apricot preserves that you should be going through instead.
This didn’t randomly happen, either. A few years before winning that gold medal, Durant was on the FIBA World Championship team alongside Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala. As ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss noted, there were numerous late nights in Turkey where the three of them would be in the gym, putting up shots and bonding over whatever NBA players bond over in such situations.
When they weren’t obliterating the opposition with video game-like basketball, they went to chapel together and connected through their faith.
After that, a lot changed. The Warriors added Klay Thompson and Draymond Green; they hired Steve Kerr as their head coach. They catapulted to the top of the mountain, winning the Finals in 2015, while Durant and the Thunder continuously hit their ceiling without a ring to show for it.
First and foremost, this is a basketball move. Durant has never been in it for the money. He’s just a freakishly good ballplayer who loves the game. Find me another superstar that’ll tour the country during a lockout, playing flag football with college kids or pickup basketball at spots like Rucker Park in New York City.
Even though Durant’s only 27 years old, next season will be his 10th in the Association. When you reach that mark, you look at things differently. I’m only 26, but I can confidently say that both you and I were very different people 10 years ago.
In his letter in The Players’ Tribune, where he announced his decision, he talked about his potential as a basketball player only being part of the equation.
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“I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man,” Durant wrote, “moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth.”
For him, at this stage in his life, that’s the Bay Area. That’s what he and Warriors executive Jerry West talked about during their phone conversation on Saturday. From basketball to legacies to personal development, Durant and “The Logo” chatted about his best interests.
For him, at this stage of his career, that’s the Golden State Warriors. The day before that call, during a two-hour meeting in the Hamptons, Warriors owner Joe Lacob, general manager Bob Meyers and Kerr helped Durant get past his apprehension over the potential PR nightmare he saw coming. They sold him on the dynasty they could create and the flow his game could develop away from OKC’s daydream, isolation offense.
He then met with Curry, Thompson, Green and Iguodala for the second half of that meeting, presumably theorizing the potential of this mind-blowing collective.
I totally get the arguments against this. No, it’s honestly not good for the rest of the league, but unfortunately parity has never been one of the NBA’s strong suits.
Before Game 1 of the this year’s Finals, commissioner Adam Silver even admitted that in a league with such small rosters, where the players hold all the power and can make these types of earth-shattering moves, the any-given-Sunday mantra that football embodies just isn’t very realistic.
“I think we’re never going to have NFL-style parity in this league,” said Silver. “It is the nature of this league that certain players are so good that those teams are likely almost automatically, if that player remains healthy, to become playoff teams — especially (when) mixed with other great players.”
Once Durant’s two-year, $54.3 million deal goes through (with an option to opt out after one), the scales will be tipped beyond comprehension, creating the best non-All-Star roster the NBA has ever seen. He’ll join a backcourt that’s already being heralded as the greatest shooting duo of all-time, a five-tool player who had the best plus-minus during the regular season last year in Green, and a Finals MVP in Iguodala.
Is it cowardly? Perhaps. Only in sports do we crucify someone for taking a step that they believe will help them be more successful in their field while growing into a better-rounded person.
Is it unfair? Probably. Nobody likes to see the rich get richer, but unfortunately the system is rigged that way. It’s a conspiracy, man.
If you’re a Golden State Warriors fan, you couldn’t be happier about the future. And if you’re not, well, better luck in free agency next year.