Durant’s performances throughout the Finals earned him yet another MVP. He was a scoring machine, and even hit another iconic shot in Game 3 against the Cavaliers. In that particular game, he showed why the Warriors got him in the first place. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson had off nights, combining for just 21 points, and the Warriors still clawed out a win.
Durant has the credentials to be one of the most celebrated players in NBA history. And yet, this second championship doesn’t feel like it’s advancing his legacy. Despite being one of the best players in the NBA throughout his career and the success with the Warriors, it still feels like Durant lacks a hive of supporters. On the other hand, guys like LeBron, Brodie, and Steph have strong contingents ... shoot — even #KlayHive is among us.
Even C.J. McCollum chimed in during the Finals to say that Durant’s success would be more enjoyable if he were on another team:
Y’all can call me whatever y’all want lol. KD a hall of famer. One of the greatest ever. Whether he would’ve went to GS or not. I just would rather see him on another team lol ♂️— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) June 7, 2018
That’s surprising. Durant is clearly a special player, and thought to be in a class only with LeBron — at worst, he’s the second best player on the planet right now.
Early on in Durant’s career, we all knew he had the potential to be incredible. He averaged 20.3 points in his first season in the league, and by year three, was averaging 30. Durant has been an All-Star every year since the 2009-10 season, taking four scoring titles with him, along with an MVP, two Finals MVPs, and now two championships. He’s going to go down as one of the best scorers the game has ever seen.
It seems like forever ago, but there was a time when everybody loved Durant. He charmed us by showing love for his mom, then grasped NBA fans everywhere with his smooth play on the court and ability to score at will. When Durant led the Thunder to the postseason in 2010 and took the eventual-champion Lakers to six games in the first round, we were hooked. It was a story that everybody was willing to get behind because he is a great player, and someone who if you tweeted at him, might end up playing flag football with you.
But then the summer of 2016 happened, and that narrative unraveled faster than a Warriors opponent in the third quarter. Durant took on a storm of criticism for supposedly taking the easy way out to win a championship, despite choosing the best work situation for himself. The Warriors were already going to win a championship without Durant, and then they slapped him on the roster during the offseason.
Durant’s first ring felt inevitable, just like his second, and assuming everything holds up, next year’s could be too. Hence the snake and cupcake memes, and Durant hopping on burner accounts to defend himself. Despite all the winning on the court, his standing hasn’t really improved much in the discussions about him and his success.
The problem is human nature. People have a natural dislike for those who succeed too easily. It’s why most sports movie classics are underdog stories like Rocky, Hoosiers, and Rudy. Underdogs make people feel good. We get to see something positive happen to a person who was in the dumps, who has a good heart, and had to work to succeed. Underdogs also usually overcome some evil incumbent power, and in the NBA today no one represents incumbent power better than the Warriors.
That’s the biggest piece in this whole thing: The Warriors aren’t normal. Durant didn’t join a team that was simply good. The Warriors were considered an all-time great team, with a trio of superstars in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. They also had the revered “Death Lineup” that shredded teams to pieces. Durant came in to replace a piece of an already complete puzzle, he was just a much shinier piece than Harrison Barnes.
So when we look at Durant’s two titles, and who the Warriors are, it explains why his rings aren’t endearing him to fans the same way that they might if he won elsewhere. There was room for one more on the Warriors’ unsinkable ship, and he jumped on. There’s nothing’s wrong with that, but it also doesn’t give fans a story they can really latch onto.
There’s a good chance we someday get to a point with Durant that we’re at with LeBron right now. For years, people held going to Miami against LeBron, and despised him in a way rarely seen before despite his historic efforts on the court. Since he returned to Cleveland and won his title there, everyone, for the most part, enjoys LeBron for what he is without a gross wave of hate. He’s playing out of his mind, and carrying a team that wouldn’t even sniff the postseason without him.
If you don’t like Durant, that’s fine. But he and his game are special things, even though they’re wrapped up in an unsatisfying package. He has been objectively and historically great, and that shouldn’t be obscured by the fact that he also has stellar teammates.
The Warriors, their superstars, and the way they win is why Durant, and how we talk about him, is different than any other player in the NBA. The end of the current superteam Warriors will more than likely have to be the thing that changes that discussion, but Durant deserves to have his hive back — one day.