OAKLAND -- You won’t find a “Win 1 for KD” t-shirt for sale on the internet. The 10-year-NBA vet did everything in his power to deliver the Oklahoma City Thunder to the promise land and when he couldn’t get over the hump, he took his talents to the Bay Area.
It’s not a fairy tale outcome for the good people of OKC and the Cleveland is probably feeling the burn right about now as well. Durant had to do what he had to do to win a ring. But how often does a player join the best team in the world and become the best player on that team?
“I hear all the narratives throughout the season,” Durant said following the Warriors 129-120 win over the Cavs Monday night. “That I hopping on bandwagons, that I was letting everybody else do the work. But that was far from the truth. I came in, I tried to help my team, I tried to be myself, be aggressive.”
Durant hoisted his first career Larry O’Brien Monday night in front of a packed house of adoring Warriors fans decked out in yellow. He was also handed the Bill Russell Trophy as the Finals MVP.
He finished the clinching Game 5 with a team-high 39-points, giving him 30 or more in all five Finals games. Durant added seven rebounds and five assists in 40 minutes of action and shot an impressive 14-of-20 from the field.
No coattail riding for Durant. He hit the big shots. He carried his team through the downtimes and all while guarding LeBron James for much of his time on the floor. In a sea of superstar players, he quietly dominated throughout the playoffs and all the way to his first championship.
“Kevin is always an afterthought for everybody,” assistant coach Mike Brown said. “Which is too bad, because Kevin, if he’s not the best player in the world, obviously he’s one of the top three. To see him perform at the level that he did on this stage during this series was fantastic. That’s who he is and be careful, because he’s going to be around for a long time.”
With Durant in tow, plenty of other players took a backseat for Golden State. But it’s a family behind the scenes. Everyone has a role and after losing the championship to the Cavs last season, the Warriors understood they needed another piece to their puzzle.
“We knew, bringing KD here, filling the gap that needed to be filled,” Draymond Green said from the Warriors champagne soaked locker room. “You feel like there’s a chink in the armor, you try to fill that. We did that. We’re Champs.”
Best player. Best team. Finals MVP. Kevin Durant.
Durant took a gamble. He took plenty of grief for doing so, but he’s no different than so many other. Karl Malone didn’t finish his career with the Utah Jazz, he joined Gary Payton in LA trying to get a ring with Shaq and Kobe. Charles Barkley tried to sneak in a ring with the Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston. Even LeBron James had to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to get his first trophy.
This isn’t a new concept. Durant isn’t a sellout. He was a free agent and he took the best opportunity to win. To judge him for that decision is naive.
“It’s a team sport,” Durant said. “You’ve got to want to sacrifice, you’ve got to want to put your teammates in front of yourself sometimes and I just tried to do that.”
The 28-year-old forward has plenty of time to cement his legacy in the league. For now, he’s found a home with a talented group of unselfish players. If he sticks around long term, this likely won’t be the last time he’s standing on a stage at season’s end being pelted with confetti.
“It feels amazing to win a championship with these guys, I can’t wait to celebrate with these guys for the rest of the night...well, maybe the rest of the summer,” Durant said.
Durant has a $27 million player option for next season with the Warriors. They’ll have a tough time piecing together a dynasty with four All-Star level players in their prime, but they’ll give it a shot. If they can keep this group together, this might go down as one of the league’s great teams.