When Kevin Durant bolted Oklahoma City for Golden State, it was easy to regard the move as the career equivalent of abandoning the first wife for someone younger and more winsome.
Sure, he had taken no vows. It was his every bit his right to trade up, having invested nine upstanding seasons in the least glamorous NBA address and coming close to turning into a championship address. Still, that he couldn’t quite do it, that he then moved on to the one team that blocked him, just seemed a trifle unseemly. Unable to otherwise win one, Durant was going to cherry-pick himself a championship.
But here he is today in the NBA Finals, the smartest guy in the room.
As the Warriors threaten to become the first champion to go unbeaten through the playoffs, as they already have run their postseason winning streak to a record 14, there is little choice now but to recognize Durant as the ingredient that has transformed this team from excellent to historically relevant.
A Cleveland turnaround the likes of last year – in which the Cavs came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Golden State – seems so much more improbable this year. That’s because of Durant. (OK, and a healthy Steph Curry, too).
It is as if Durant is holding the title above his head, at the end of those telescoping arms, just out of reach of every leap and lunge of the very good Cavs. And not even LeBron James can snatch it away.
A Warriors team that, while already of championship quality, was regarded as a pretty team, a bunch of slick shooters. Now it has gained so much more fundamental credibility. That’s because of Durant.
Durant completes the picture of the Warriors as a team to be reckoned with in conversations regarding the all-time best (and certainly the all-time most entertaining). Here is one of those unique talents that covers both the vertical and horizontal aspects of the game, a player of unnatural size and uncommon grace who covers either end of the floor.
The Warriors may have won another title this season without Durant. But they would not have been putting together a run such as this in the process: Running the great James into exhaustion. Averaging 124 points a game in the postseason against a San Antonio team that was second in the league in fewest points allowed (98.1). Going for 122 a game in the first two against the Cavs (15 more than their regular season average of points allowed). Putting up some formidable defensive barriers at the rim as well as in the open court.
Durant has been a MVP (2014) and a perpetual All-Star. He’d be a Hall of Famer had he stayed in OKC. But, because of what he has shown in the company of the Warriors this season, he has vaulted himself into an even more elite echelon. With the Thunder, he commanded the fifth most purchased souvenir jersey in the league. He is at No. 3 now, behind teammate Steph Curry and James. Those KD 9 Elite shoes never have been more popular. Most importantly, Durant is putting up some of his best marketplace stats ever.
We have just paid him so much more attention this season than ever before. It is as if for the first time his abilities have been defined and verified. Finally, the art he brings to the court has been properly framed.
For as obnoxious as it seemed at the time, it would seem Durant made a fairly canny move last July.