There’s a lot at stake in the 2017 NBA Finals between Golden State and Cleveland. No one faces more risk than Kevin Durant.
Kevin Durant sat in the visitor’s locker room at Oracle Arena with a blank stare on his face. His Thunder had just lost three straight to the record-breaking Warriors, relenting a 3-1 series lead. That collapse created a domino effect leaving Durant–just over a year later–on the precipice of two alternate endings, both historic, but polar opposites of each other.
When Durant’s signing first hit Twitter, the backlash was imminent. Durant’s former teammate Russell Westbrook posted a picture of cupcakes, an apparent dig at Durant. It never ceased. The negative attention has been consistent as KD’s jumper. The former Texas All-American said all the right things. Did all the right things. He wanted a challenge both personally and professionally. He’s battled injury, constant media attention and the struggle connected with fitting a system already well-oiled before he arrived. Like adding nitrous to a 10-second car.
Sitting in Oracle’s visitor’s locker room this year for the NBA Finals is someone who knows a bit about negative attention following a free-agent signing. There was probably no bigger controversy regarding free agency than LeBron James taking his “Talents to South Beach.” They said he was soft. They said he was giving up. His owner lambasted him for all the world to see. They said his legacy would be tainted.
Seven years later and that same James is being discussed in the same breath as the GOAT, Michael Jordan.
He went to Miami, withstood the onslaught of criticism and won two championships out of four appearances. Not only did he win, but he dominated. He asserted himself as the best in the game. He grabbed the reigns from Dwyane Wade as the leader of that team and with it the entire NBA. After accomplishing step one, he went back up north and won another title. In the process creating a legend for himself.
No one talks about “The Decision” anymore.
The blueprint is there.
If Durant comes into the series and outshines everyone on Golden State, leading the Warriors to the title, the accolades will follow. Finals Champion. Finals MVP. Win another title after that, and he’s now in discussion as one of the greats.
But if he loses, the blame will fall squarely on him. They’ll blame him for messing with Golden State’s chemistry. He’ll be the guilty party for Oklahoma City’s collapse last year. The soft tag will stick with him through the offseason. The same thing happened with James when the Heat lost to Dallas in his first Finals appearance with Miami.
The opportunity to be a champion is why Durant chose Golden State. He recognized the scrutiny he’d receive from those close to him and strangers alike, which is why he anticipated to be challenged personally. He expected the doubt in every arena, which is why he said he’d be challenged professionally. Now it all lies there in front of him, this time in the home locker room at Oracle. On one hand, a chance to take the next step up the greatness food chain. On the other, well the other..no doubt cupcakes would be served.