CLEVELAND – Kevin Durant had a simple message for his critics: “Thanks.”
Durant’s move to the Golden State Warriors, booed by many around the NBA, has unquestionably paid off for both the player and his team: Two years, two NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVPs and almost certainly a new contract in the next few weeks after he and the Warriors decide on the best way to proceed.
He is often a man of few words, but Durant let his thoughts be known Friday night after the Warriors won their second consecutive title by finishing off a sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers. There was a rare openness to Durant in his postgame remarks as he let his detractors know that whatever they said when he left Oklahoma City for Golden State didn’t mean much then and means even less now.
“Former players and players now that got a lot to say about what I did, they know how I play,” Durant said, his newest Finals MVP trophy standing just to his left. “They know exactly what I bring. They know. They know. They understand when they get on the court with me or if they check up with me, they know what it is. So I kind of try to just stand on that. But I know what I bring to the game.”
Here’s what he brings to the Warriors: 26.4 points per game in this regular season, 29 points per game in the playoffs, a 43-point explosion in Game 3 that will go into NBA Finals lore and a triple-double in the series clincher to cap it all off.
But the criticism – which came from both current and former players when he joined the Warriors to form a superteam two summers ago – probably won’t stop, either.
Perhaps a coincidence, Durant’s former Oklahoma City teammate Russell Westbrook posted a video of himself singing along with an Ice Cube rap on Saturday morning – the message of the track being that someone had lost his or her edge. “I saw it comin’; that’s why I went solo,” Cube rapped, as Westbrook mouthed the words. (Not long afterward, amid speculation that was directed to Durant, Westbrook added another post that said, “Stop reaching.”)
Not everyone has a negative thought on Durant and his choices. Cleveland star LeBron James, who denied Durant a title when Miami beat Oklahoma City in 2012, raves about Durant’s game.
“You knew he was built for greatness from the time that he was drafted,” James said.
The greatness can’t be questioned now. And if Durant going to Golden State hasn’t been great for league-wide parity, it has quite obviously been great for the Warriors.
They don’t really care about much else.
“K.D.’s been amazing these last two years, especially in the finals, and so deserving of back-to-back finals MVPs,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “I’m going to be his biggest fan in there with what he’s able to do. I think the biggest thing we appreciate in the locker room is, again, what everybody brings to the table and we kind of unlock the greatness out of each other.”
When it was all over Friday night, there was both an arrogance and a humility to Durant – both understandable.
The 29-year-old is on top of the basketball world, rich beyond his wildest expectations, with rings for both hands now and a hope that his game is only going to keep getting better.
Even in that moment, though, he remembered his roots.
Seat Pleasant, Maryland, is a little town just outside of Washington. It’s mostly black, mostly impoverished. There’s a lot of crime. There aren’t a lot of roads out of Seat Pleasant, unless you’re 6-foot-11 with an endless wingspan and an indefensible jump shot that’s as smooth as the golden basketball that sits atop the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
“I just feel indebted to the game,” Durant said. “I feel like it saved my life. It changed my life. It took me out of an environment that I didn’t think I’d ever be out of, living in Maryland my whole life. I thought I was going to live in Maryland my whole life. But to travel the world and meet different people, and go to different arenas and different cities and countries around the world, I’m just forever grateful for this opportunity.”
That’s why he feels vindication, overcoming that.
Disproving doubters, disproving critics, that’s just a bonus.
“We all want something that’s bigger than ourselves,” Durant said of the Warriors. “I think we love to see each other succeed. We love to come together and figure stuff out on the basketball court. … We finished it off with a championship. We’ve got a bunch of guys in the locker room that don’t care about anything but just being better basketball players every day and winning.”
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