As one of the Neanderthals who waits for the Olympics every four years for the 100 metres dash final and the superstar NBA players humiliate the competition from the rest of the world playing with FIBA rules which are a bit different from the NBA rules, I was looking forward to the 2012 London Olympics with great fervour. The chance to see the inimitable Usain Bolt attempt to go for the world record and Lebron/his cohorts (headlined by one Kobe Bryant and Kevin Wayne Durant) destroy everyone wasn’t gonna pass me by without the customary ohhhs and ahhs from yours truly.
Now Lebron James was widely regarded as the best player in the world at the time and proved it somewhat in the 2012 NBA finals months earlier beating the Oklahoma City Thunder in 5 games. I hadn’t at that time watched the finals but followed it online.I hadn’t, prior to that moment, seen Durant play a full game in the NBA. Yea I knew he played in the league and put up great numbers but I’d never assessed his skill set up close.
After losing the first game of the finals to the 23 year old Durant and his team of neonates, the Heat were on the verge of losing the second one after the thunder recovered a major deficit in the 2nd half. It came down to a huge play at the end where Durant attacked James in the low post and James went on to foul him on his attempted shot which wasn’t called by the officials.
It was a huge and potential series deciding mistake by the refs. Lebron went on to hit two clutch free throws to win the game and won the next three to win the series.
The London Olympics arrived and I’m just watching highlights of the basketball games (after swearing I was going to see all the Team USA games) and loving myself. First full game I watched was the Spain/USA Gold Medal Game and something became painfully glaring to me. Kevin Durant, not Lebron, was the best player on Team USA.
This man was 7ft tall with guard skills. He was ambidextrous, could take the ball to the rim, could post up, could shoot the midrange,the three in many ways. The catch and shoot, the pull up three, this man had it all. He was simply an Basketball scoring savant!!
Every time Spain and Pau would get close, the Americans and KD had a shot to stop their run. That was the moment i realised Kevin Durant was the most talented basketball player in the world and all he had to do to become the universally recognised best player in the game was improve his defense. That of course was not to be as he only started playing noteworthy defense in the Playoffs in his last season with OKC.
Fast forward to May 2016, he and Russell Westbrook blew 3-1 lead in the western conference finals to the Steph Curry-led Golden state warriors, who had just set the regular season record for most wins in an NBA season with 73. It was heart breaking for us OKC fans as we’d believed we were going back to the finals to avenge our 2012 loss to Lebron. Even worse we were dead worried about Durant’s impending free agency decision.
A series of unfortunate events(injuries to both Westbrook and Durant in 2013 & 2015 respectively) and some self inflicted wounds by our front office (like refusing to pay James Harden a luxury tax of 4 mil), Westbrook’s ball dominant style of play at the 1, the teams heavy reliance on Isolation basketball, along with Lebron stacking the deck of cards in his favour, just felt like ominous signs he was going to leave and on the 4th of July 2016, Kevin Durant took his talents to the Bay area. He agreed to sign with Golden State who had just lost a heart breaking game 7 to the Cavs in the final minutes to a great Kyrie Irving isolation play. He agreed to sign for the team that just beat us in the Western conference finals sparking memories of Lebron’s decision in 2010.
Naturally, OKC fans, NBA followers and enthusiasts were irate. Chants of Snake! Traitor! Cupcake! soon emerged. ESPN First Take anchor, Stephen A Smith, called it “The weakest move by any superstar in history” but anyhow ESPN had some thick analyst called Cari Champion go on air in 2016 and leave KD off the list of top 5 players to build a franchise around citing “He doesn’t have heart.” She was duly put in her place by Damian Lillard on twitter as a know nothing.
Ex-players were incredulous! Saying stuff like how they would never do such a weak thing. They would never hop on a bandwagon, join a team that didn’t need him to basically chase a ring conveniently forgetting Lebron had already wisely rigged the game in his favour. The naysayers were quick to say “There’s only one ball” “They are too small and lost all of their interior defense/rim protection to acquire Durant “ “KD a choker anyways and Bron would handle him and his new superteam.”
This was new territory for Durant as he was previously a universally loved athlete but now, he was more hated than Lebron James. This was a guy who delivered the most heartfelt speech in all of sports in 2014 when he dedicated his MVP to his mother in tears on National TV and called her THE REAL MVP but was now the most hated sportsman in America and 2nd most hated man in America behind Donald Trump. The Warriors would go on to win 67 games in the season, with KD, Curry, Klay and Draymond having stellar season.
The team did survive a medial cruciate ligament injury to Durant that caused him to miss 20 games/his shot at regular season MVP. He however recovered before the end of the regular season and they breezed through the Western Conference in the playoffs going 12-0 sweeping their biggest scare in the West (Kawhi and his San Antonio Spurs) thus setting up a rubber match with the defending champions, The Cleveland Cavaliers.
This was the moment of truth for Durant. If he lost, he’d definitely be killed in the media – print, tv, social media – and almost everyone outside the Bay wanted him to lose badly but something else was happening.
Most of the pundits were saying the Cavs would win in 6 or 7, and basically comparing Lebron to Michael Jordan. That ultimately meant no one playing today compares to him seeing the experts were comparing him to The GOAT. I could imagine KD watching all that and feeling insulted and would in return, go supernova on Lebron and the Cavaliers in the finals. I was not wrong. Kevin Durant went berserk in the NBA finals. He was simply a matchup disaster for the Cavs as no one could defend him and he wasn’t ball dominant in the Golden State offense. He was a killer. If you were too small, he’d just shoot it over you, too strong, he’d take you to the bucket or shoot it over you, slack off him on the perimeter, Three! Defend the 3, he is going to the cup.
It was an ultra efficient display of offensive wizardry that has not been seen in the history of the finals. The man shot almost 50% from 3Pt range. He was giving lessons in art of scoring in the NBA finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers led by the great Lebron James through 5 games 5 years after crying off the finals stage against the heat. The moment of the series came in the final moments of Game 3 where he hit a dagger 3 that sucked the life out of the Quickens loans Arena.. IT WAS COLDBLOODED!! It was almost like it was scripted. He averaged 35ppg/5asg/7rpg with a 56% FG% and TS% of almost 70% (otherworldly) in the NBA finals and most notably played 1st team all NBA defense type of defense and was rightly named the MVP of the finals. LeBron had a triple double, averaged 33PPG with a far higher usage rate, more FGA/Game and played 6 minutes more than Durant per contest.
This man had come into his own, finally realised he was the best player in the league and wasn’t there for all the Lebron adulation. He’s now an NBA champion, Finals MVP, THE BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD and i believe he’d be back at the peak in 4 years for the one that matters with OKC.