We had eight seasons of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It was worth every second, even if it ended unexpectedly. It was a rare moment where two teenagers grew into superstars together before our eyes.
Durant's decision to join the Golden State Warriors means he and Westbrook will probably never play on the same team again, and definitely not in the prime of their careers. Emotions from Durant's decision have washed over the NBA -- anger, surprise, disappointment, acceptance directed to counteract the previous three. But between the manufactured outrage and real disappointment, there hasn't yet been time for sadness.
Durant and Westbrook, our favorite superstar couple, are single once again. And that's a damn shame.
How many times do top-five (or top-six, or top-seven, or top-whatever) superstars come together on the same team in consecutive years? Durant was destined for superstardom in 2007 when he was drafted second overall by the Sonics. Westbrook needed two seasons before it was clear he was on the same path after the eventual Thunder nabbed him with the fourth pick in the 2008 draft.
They rose quickly: by 2012, people weren't questioning when they'd win their first championship, but how many it would be. Durant and Westbrook on the same team, with James Harden and Serge Ibaka as complementary pieces -- what could go wrong?
As it turns out, a lot. And now the ideas of those two as lifelong teammates is gone, probably forever.
It really was a yin and yang relationship, as cliche as that is. Westbrook was the brash ball-dominant guard who always got in trouble for shooting too much in comparison to the ultra-efficient Durant. Westbrook wore his feelings on his sleeve -- there's too many examples to point to, but a favorite is him telling a reporter, "I just don't like you." Durant was more brooding, holding slights while pretending he didn't. When Skip Bayless said something that annoyed him, Durant didn't fire back on his own Twitter or bring it up unprompted during a media session. No, he reportedly texted a reporter telling him to ask him about it so he could "react" at the podium. (The reporter declined).
Durant and Westbrook were very different, but that's exactly why they were so great together. They did their playoff press conferences together and were at their best when teaming up on a common enemy, like Charlie Villanueva.
They were even more dynamic on the court, of course. Their combined brilliance every game was masterful -- Westbrook in a blur for an above-the-rim finish, or Durant stretching out over several defenders in the mid-range. In one double-overtime win last year, the duo combined for 91 points.
Maybe the most iconic Durant-Westbrook moment came in the 2014 playoffs against the Grizzlies. Westbrook threw an errant pass, recovered it on one foot falling out of bounce and shuffled it to Durant, who hit an impossible four-point play.
That encapsulated everything about the duo: Westbrook's brazen play that could always be saved by sheer athleticism and Durant's shotmaking ascending to another stratosphere. Westbrook played basketball like it was a drag race; Durant, like a very athletic game of chess. At their best, they played off each other flawlessly, amplifying each other's strengths.
You can't pay tribute to Durant and Westbrook without also admitting that their defining qualities, when they weren't working, likely factored into Durant's departure. At their worst, Westbrook's aggressiveness was too much, not allowing the more restrained Durant to take his shots. A terrible tendency to fall into isolation ball hurt them when they needed clean offense the most: when they lead by seven points in Game 6 against the Warriors last May, six minutes away from the NBA Finals.
Durant will embrace a new system with the Warriors, one where team ball, passing and unselfishness are the top three tenets of their offense. He'll thrive with Stephen Curry in a different way than he did with Westbrook, in a way, that is partly familiar, but also completely foreign. Durant and Curry didn't become adults together, or grow a city into something more than it was before, or even run wind sprints in a drainage basin somewhere in an Oklahoma City subdivision. Durant and Curry can win a million championships, but they'll always be different than Durant and Westbrook.
Everything good in sports comes to an end, and there's no shame in that. Durant has earned the right to move forward, but there are still eight wonderful years where they grew together and we enjoyed them all the more for it.
It's like your favorite television show reaching an epic finale. You enjoyed the journey getting there, and you can appreciate what it has done looking back. You can even understand that the time for it to end had come. But you're still sad there isn't more.
The difference with television is that Durant and Westbrook are real life characters who exist in our own world, not a scripted one. There's always a chance for a reboot in their 30's, and there's plenty of opportunities for spinoffs when their teams meet and they have adorable moments with each other before or after games.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook gave each other and returned to us so much for eight years. It would be understandable to wish for one more season, even if you know it isn't happening.