Just a Second

Courtesy of Joe Lacob’s ego

At what point, if at all, did you dare to dream? You knew the circumstances, the insurmountable odds, the fact that a championship team followed up its title by winning 73 games only to lose in Internet-infamous fashion, perhaps spurring the acquisition of the second (which, he loves that, and don’t let his championship and Finals MVP tell you otherwise)-best basketball player on the planet. You knew this.

And yet, you dared to think, if only for a moment, what calamity it would be, what a catastrophic occurrence for the foundation of the game of basketball it would be if the Golden State Warriors, featuring three of perhaps the five best shooters in NBA history, lost in the Finals after leading 3-0. I know you did, because I did too. We both knew better but wanted to stave off the anger of Durant joining this team and ending any reasonable expectation of the all-important “parity” in the NBA for the next 3-5 years. As it is, it shall be.

Game 4 was what Game 3 should’ve been, and Game 3 is what Game 3 nearly should’ve been anyway. Going down 3-1 is one thing; for all the mindless references to it since, other teams have accomplished a comeback from that deficit, albeit not in an NBA Finals, and not against (say it with me, loud and proud) the first unanimous MVP in league history. But it was possible.

Going down 3-0 in a series, however, has very few, albeit extremely notable, exceptions, which, as a nominal Yankees fan, I will neglect to mention here. It’s a rare feat, one which takes a unique combination of skill, savvy and luck to see through. It would’ve taken a miracle.

Specifically, the kind of miracle it took to sign Kevin Durant to this menacing squad in the first place. A confluence of insane, once-in-a-league’s-history factors, including Steph Curry’s ankle-wary contract extension and the salary cap jump, allowed for what happened last summer, and now the rest of the league has to, in the parlance of web commenters so used to roasting the Warriors over the past twelve months, deal with it.

Firstly: congratulations to Kevin Durant on his first NBA championship, in earnest. I’ve watched that gentleman carry some teams through oblivion, and he earned this as much as anyone else, surrounded by these particular gunslingers or not. On a granular level, his success is incredible, coming from a single mom in DC and through Texas, through Seattle and through the years in OKC to accomplish this. He’s a champion, and nobody, Shaq included, can ever take that away from him.

Plainly, unless you’re the Real MVP reading this right now, Kevin Durant doesn’t care what you think, at least in the macro. He hasn’t, ever, and that is his right, just as it was his right to shatter the NBA’s paradigm and go to the team that had just beaten him (after, oh, you know, leading them 3-1 in a series). He had every right to go to Golden State, just as you have every right to leave your well-paying but dead-end job for something more fulfilling. Frankly, do it, if you think you can feel like Durant felt upon realizing he’d just won his first NBA title. That has to be immeasurable.

Cries of “It was too easy” and “This bro ain’t loyal,” or whatever, would’ve instead been “He never won” or “No #RANGZ,” and probably from the very people extolling the virtues of the former. Free agency was built for a reason, and Durant did what was certainly best for him, competitive balance be damned. LeBron definitely took advantage of many circumstances which befell him too.

Contrary to the erstwhile marketing campaign, Kevin Durant is probably a nice guy interpersonally. He brought me so much joy that he once elicited an eventual, hypothetical wedding invitation (should I be so lucky, and other legalese; otherwise, it’s an ordination) via Twitter, and his skill as a basketball player is positively unquestioned. He deserves a title, even if–

But that’s just it. This Warriors team is constructed the way it is as a direct and resounding response to the greatest player in the world, the reason Paul Pierce was almost offensively off-base when he said Durant may now be the best. He isn’t, because the best team in the league didn’t react directly to him via free agency. Durant bends to the standard, which is why he isn’t the standard.

Say it once, say it a million times; LeBron James is the best player in the world, and possibly the best ever. If detractors (and, yes, LeBron himself, considering his “shadow that played in Chicago” comments from last year) were serious about direct comparisons – which, again, Magic is the best one physically and skill-wise, because if it’s all about rings then Bill Russell is getting left out in the dark right here, but I digress – they would’ve, what, wanted Jordan to join the Pistons in 1990, I guess? Isaiah wasn’t about to pass to him anyway.

James has a 3-5 Finals record. That’s alright, really. Warriors coach Steve Kerr deftly made the point about what older players say about the current state of the NBA and how the league has evolved, and he’s right. The thought of anybody going to the Finals six years in a row in this day and age is insane, James Jones included.

But back to Durant, the crux of the matter and, he thinks, of the league. Interestingly, his move to the Warriors may have solidified his place as the prime counterpoint to James on a captivating level – if, as Kevin O’Connor said, LeBron is the greatest underdog ever by virtue of being the greatest ever, then Kevin Durant may be the greatest frontrunner ever despite being possibly the greatest scorer ever.

That’s why I say Kevin Durant, NBA MVP, Finals MVP, plainly, doesn’t care what you think. He wanted to win, and now he has; everything about his enduring brilliance, which was plain to see in these Finals even amidst the flashing lights of Curry, Thompson, Green and the rest, must fade, ever so slightly because of the absurd raw power of this squad. This seems like a nice time to mention the contributions of GM Bob Myers and Kerr, the latter of whose influence transcends the back problems he faced early in the playoffs.

Eventually, of course, it won’t matter, at least if current standards are to be believed – Durant is a champion now, as are Ian Clark, Matt Barnes, Kevon Looney, JaVale McGee, Patrick McCaw, David West and Zaza Pachulia, among the others adding to their collections. And, to be clear, you contributed to this, merely by asking, “But how many championships did he win?” in any given conversation, anywhere.

Durant has finally achieved his goal of a championship, in resounding fashion and alongside all-time great teammates. None of these facts will be disputed. But, as it stands – and this reduces everything to basketball terms, which is never totally fair, but – Durant is less shepherd than sheep. No one will ever refer to “the Durant era” of basketball as they will those of Russell, Chamberlain, Bird/Magic, Jordan and, yes, of James. Durant has embraced being a revolutionary rather than one in power, despite having all the power in the world, and more power to him.

Poor men want to be rich, dream to be rich, even; that much is obvious. But if rich men want to be king, then Durant will never be satisfied, at least not like this.

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