It was 8:23 in the morning and I was running dangerously late going to work. On normal days, I would have been frowning with sweat rolling off my cheeks as I rushed into the car. But there I was, calmly sitting down in the driver’s seat, wearing my seat belt with a smile on my face.
This wasn’t any normal day. It was the 11th of June, Game 5 of the NBA Finals, with my basketball hero, Kevin Durant, slated to return from injury.
Instead of just driving out hurriedly, I changed things up. The AC was on full blast. I stretched my arms to the back of the car to pick up a box, then placed it on the right passenger’s seat with a seat belt around it. It sounds crazy, I know. But this wasn’t just some ordinary box. It was a Funko Pop of Durant in a Warriors jersey, a graduation gift from a dear friend.
I took a bunch of selfies with it. I even took a photo of it wearing the seat belt. This wasn’t just for the Gram. It was just pure joy on my part as in less than 40 minutes, my favorite player was going back to the court to simply do his thing.
The narratives surrounding KD’s return were countless. It wouldn’t be a conversation about Durant without media asking, “What are the odds of KD winning Finals MVP?” Of course there was discussion about Tim Kawakami’s piece from the Athletic, seemingly accusing him of quitting on the Warriors.
The fact of the matter was, motivations for Durant’s return were about accolades. Finals MVPs. Rings. Personal glory to build legacies. But for me, as I drove off to work that day, I wasn’t thinking about any of those. I just wanted to see Kevin Durant play. That’s it. If you told me that’s what my motivation would be two months ago, I would have thought you were crazy.
It didn’t just apply to me personally. When talking to my friends, on social media, or even with random basketball fans, I didn’t hesitate to let them know that I believed Kevin Durant was the best player in the world. No amount of gravity from Steph Curry would change my mind. Throw your “bought not earned” takes to the garbage.
I’m Kevin Durant. Ya’ll know who I am.
Best in the world. That’s what he was to me.
During the first and second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs, he was well on his way to proving me right once again. After a sour two games versus the Los Angeles Clippers, Durant suddenly erupted to the tune of 38 points during Game 3. It wasn’t just a one hit wonder. He kept on chugging along. Bucket. Bucket. Kevin Durant. Walking bucket.
It spilled over to the second round against a determined Rockets team. After four games in the Western Conference Semifinals, Durant was averaging 36 points on elite shooting splits. With the game as tight as ever in a pivotal Game 5 and Curry struggling to get going, the stage was set for Durant to take over the Warriors once again.
It felt like the start. With two minutes left in the third quarter, Durant elevated from the right short corner with the defense draped all over him. Swish. As per usual. This was it, the Durant take over I’ve grown accustomed to during the Playoffs. Golden State was up by 3. Things should be only going up. Should.
Something felt off. As Durant walked back to the other side of the court following his made jumper, he started to hop on one foot while he held onto his right foot. It wasn’t just his calf he was holding onto, it was his achilles.
I remember the exact moment that happened. From the hope of being treated to another Durant classic, my heart dropped in an instant. I was worried sick. I really thought this was it, the run that would immortalize Durant as someone worthy of being talked about with the likes of Kobe, LeBron, MJ. Except it wasn’t. He had strained his right calf and was deemed out indefinitely.
I remember telling myself then. It’s alright. He’ll still be Finals MVP. My motivations remained the same. Accolades. Individual glory.
Game 1 of the Finals came. I wasn’t expecting him to play, but a surprise would have been nice. It never came. I tried to stay positive. He’ll still be Finals MVP. No doubt.
Down 1-0, it seemed perfect for Durant to make a grand entrance. He was announced out once again. Frustration grew, even despite the Warriors win. Here we go. Got one on the road. Let’s get that Finals MVP. Third ring.
Without Kevon Looney and Klay Thompson, Golden State was blown out during Game 3. The angst was for real now. JUST PLAY HIM ALREADY. PLEASE. HE’S YOUR BEST PLAYER.
I expected Game 4 to be his return. I expected wrong. At that point, my angst was totally gone. It turned into desperation, as my anger turned into sorrow. For the love of god. Just play already. I miss watching you play.
It took five weeks of Kevin Durant not playing for my intentions as a basketball fan to change. I prioritized the individual success of my favorite player first over anything else then. I stuck to my guns early on. But after a while, my frustration spilled over and revealed deeper desires. Deep need not always be complicated. What I wanted was simple. I just wanted to watch Kevin Durant play basketball again.
And there I was. With a smile on my face and the KD figure in hand, I walked to the office ready to watch KD wreak havoc like I’ve been used to. I was ready. My officemates were also ready, as evidenced by the amount of screens showing the game during office hours. This was it. The return of the Slim Reaper.
Everyone paid close attention to Durant’s movements. Laterally looks questionable. He seems hesitant. In my eyes, it didn’t really matter. I was looking at this game with rose-colored glasses in that moment.
Bucket. Bucket. Kevin Durant. Walking bucket. With 12 minutes of playing time, he already had 11 points on 3/5 shooting from the field. Maybe he wasn’t isolating as much. His drives did not look as sharp. But the very fact that he was dominating while playing the exact same role Harrison Barnes had during the 2014-2016 run of Golden State deserves credit. This was Kevin Durant at his peak. Dominating the game in a ways unthinkable. Simple, smooth, but deadly.
Early in the second quarter, Andrew Bogut gave KD a screen and Serge Ibaka ended up switching onto Durant. Old Thunder buddies. Probably Durant’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner during practices then. After spotting up and just shooting jumpers for most of the game, this was KD’s shot at isolating and cooking the slower Ibaka. Here we go. Old school KD coming up.
He crossed over to the left, but he wasn’t able to get off that bounce and sway he’s always had when handling the ball.
Something felt off.
He bumped into Ibaka, lost control of the ball, and committed a turnover. As the camera shifted to the breaking Raptors, You could see a glimpse of Durant holding on to his right leg.
Goddammit. Not again.
Little did I know, the next few hours would be a repeat of the roller coaster I went through as a fan over the past month.
Steve Kerr put it best. “An incredible win, and a horrible loss at the same time.”
From that point up to around lunch, I was in utter shock. I was on the verge of breaking down on my office desk, overthinking at the possibilities of the injury. Anything but the “A” word. Next thing I knew, he was declared out for the game. Afterwards, there was a video of him in crutches and a boot, exiting the arena.
Time is supposed to heal. That’s why while I ate lunch, I started to find my bearings, getting ready for the work day. It was only a matter of time. Everything would be fine, I said.
But all that hope vanished in an instant. A friend messaged me, “OMG. ACHILLES SI KD.”
There it was. The A word.
As I walked around and scrolled through Twitter, the main topic remained to be Durant. The sorrow started to fade. Suddenly, it turned into anger. I told myself, NOW YOU APPRECIATE HIM WHEN HE’S INJURED?
NBA Twitter was suddenly praising Durant like some martyr who sacrificed his body for the sake of the Golden State Warriors. It was too funny for me as a KD fan. A few days ago, some members of the media seemingly accused Durant of quitting on the team by not playing. Then here we were, congratulating him for putting his body and essentially his career on the line, all for the sake of his team. Ironic.
I was infuriated the whole afternoon. At that point I had accepted it already, Durant wouldn’t be available to play for next season. Bob Myers confirmed he had sustained an Achilles injury. Myers punctuated his press conference with this insight on Durant.
“”I know Kevin takes a lot of hits sometimes, but he just wants to play basketball, and right now he can’t.”
Durant just wants to play ball. And I just want to watch my hero play
And that’s when it occurred to me. It was as simple as that. This wasn’t just about me as a Kevin Durant fan, or the championship hopes of the Golden State Warriors. This was about basketball. Having a talent the caliber of Durant makes watching the sport a better experience.
Maybe I could hold on to that. He may have not been the best in the world. He may have always been second. But he made the sport of basketball better.
I just wanna hoop. KD has always embraced that ball is life. His mere presence in the sport and how he’s embraced is should inspire everyone who wants to ball. Basically, all basketball fans, myself included.
Injuries happen. That’s just how life is. But that shouldn’t reduce the value of a basketball player. I know it won’t for Durant’s case. The next time he’s is cleared to play for a basketball game — hopefully with zero drama surrounding the clearing of his health — I’ll make sure to keep the same energy I did on the 11th of June.
I just want to watch Kevin Durant play basketball again. As simple as that.
Photos from Getty Images