Is Kevin Durant simply a reflection of our own feelings?

(Yahoo Sports illustration)
(Yahoo Sports illustration)

Humans are terrible when it comes to change. The mere mention of change incites some level of panic in many, if not most, of us. And it makes sense: Change is tireless, unpredictable and oftentimes scary. So when we find something we like that seems somewhat reliable, we latch on to it — sometimes even to our detriment. These constants allow us some familiarity and comfort when the winds of change inevitably begin to blow. They are anchors in an ever-evolving environment and they come in many forms.

One of the more prominent forms is sports, and in particular fandom and our relationship with sports teams and the athletes who play for them. For instance, why would anybody on earth still root for the New York Knicks? They’ve been trash for as long as we have been colloquially referring to people, places, or things as “trash.” They’ve been trash as long as trash has been called trash. Yet, they’re still the most valuable franchise in the NBA and remain among the top 10 NBA teams in merchandise sold. How? Why would so many people choose to suffer through such an abysmal period for a franchise? Because regardless of how trash the Knicks are, they still are the Knicks … and change is tireless, unpredictable and oftentimes scary. So Knicks fans will still latch on to the Knicks, even to their detriment.

“I’m just a regular guy, and I play ball on TV sometimes.” — Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant is the perfect example of when purpose and passion meet. He was put on this planet to play basketball, and he does it at the highest level. He is a top-10 player of all time. And perhaps the best offensive player who has ever lived. He’s 7-feet tall with a 7-5 wingspan. His jumper is as unstoppable as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook, and he has enough handle to get him anywhere on the court at anytime.

Durant’s not just a special player. He’s the type of special player who’s considered special among even the most special players. But as especially gifted as Durant is, he’s just a guy. That’s why he played flag football during the lockout. That’s what caused him to pass on one of the best nicknames ever conceived — “The Slim Reaper” — in hopes of being called potentially the lamest ever: “The Servant.” That thinking is why he was deemed the nicest player in the NBA. And what probably led him to make the decision to join the Golden State Warriors, which immediately made him one of the NBA’s most hated.

TORONTO, ONTARIO - JUNE 10:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors reacts against the Toronto Raptors in the first half during Game Five of the 2019 NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena on June 10, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Everything changed for Kevin Durant in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The reaction was understandable. The best offensive player we’ve ever seen joined the best regular-season team in NBA history. The team that overcame a 3-1 deficit to knock Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder out of the playoffs in 2016 before blowing a 3-1 lead of its own. The move didn’t just come off as cowardly, it felt dastardly. We felt betrayed. How could he do this? How could he do this to OKC? To Russell Westbrook? To us fans? To the game of basketball as a whole? This all but guaranteed the Warriors three more chips, barring injury.

Durant’s decision didn’t just change what we thought about him. It changed the entire landscape of the league. And, as we’ve already discussed, people are not good with change, which is why the mere mention of his name on any social-media platform brings about pure vitriol from most NBA fans. I’m not here to defend the decision. Personally, I hated it. I felt the same way every other NBA fan felt. But I will say this: Even if it wasn’t a “good” decision it was a great career decision. He had a chance to leave the middle of America and move to a city with palm trees and year-round spring temperatures, to work with a team of people who make his load a lot lighter, and his opportunity for success a whole lot higher. If your buddy had the same opportunity, you’d take him or her out to the bar to get as drunk as drunk could get in celebration. And you can say the context is different because he plays a sport. But the bottomline is the NBA is a business. And don’t forget: Kevin Durant is just a guy to Kevin. Which is the same reason we loved him, right?

What Durant did with the Warriors was legendary. He won two championships as well as two Finals MVPs. During the 2017 Finals, he averaged 35.2 points (55.6 percent shooting and 47.4 percent from 3-point range). In the clutch moments he was frightening. Every shot he hit felt like eating one of Joe Frazier’s thudding hooks. The man who was called Mr. Unreliable by an OKC newspaper was the most reliable in the postseason in the biggest moments. He was continuing that run during the 2019 playoffs, carrying the Warriors while averaging 32.3 points (51.4 percent shooting and 43.8 percent from 3-point range). He felt like the most dominant force in the league, before the calf went … and then the Achilles tendon.

A ruptured Achilles may be the most devastating injury in sports. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to come back to be the same player. Hopefully, Durant proves that theory wrong, but as of now, we’ve rarely seen it. A player who has ability that has never been seen before may never be the same again. That’s a difficult reality to deal with.

During his time as the most hated player in the league, he was in his prime and played some of his best basketball, but did anyone really appreciate it? He was treated as if he were almost a criminal, and in return his humanity was almost snatched from him. Everything he did was considered suspect. Even up to the very moment he was injured, his desire and toughness were questioned. It took a torn Achilles and him lying on the court for us to give him back his humanity. It took him putting his body on the line for us to see what the game truly meant to him. It took a devastating injury to see how much of a business the NBA truly is. It took all this for us to finally see Kevin Durant as he sees himself. A regular guy who just plays basketball on TV sometimes.

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