Everything always comes down to your legacy in the NBA. Even when players are doing things that were once perceived as unimaginable, breaking records that were once seen as unbreakable, we look as far beyond as possible and essentially wonder how the player will be talked about when we rope our kids into this loving this sport. It’s like everyone took the “heroes are remembered, but legends never die” speech from The Sandlot as literally as possible. While we look at where players stand in history when their careers are over, no one has ever, or will ever, have a legacy as unique as Kevin Durant.
There’s never a cut and dry area with everybody and where players rank, or even how to rank them. Just look on Twitter and fire off a hot take if you want to test the waters. Legacies are figured out differently. Some are remembered for being part of bigger teams, like the Showtime Lakers or the Heattles. Some are remembered for moments that aren’t as bright like Ron Artest going full UFC during the Malice at the Palace or Lamar Odom’s affliction to crack cocaine and hookers. But mostly, it’s about just how good you were as a player, and what you’re remembered for.
That’s where Kevin Durant comes in. Durant is known for both good things and bad, championships and betrayal, with some off-court nonsense sprinkled on top. Most players can be remembered for one single thing, or two. Durant’s arc and path to where he is, and where he can go, is unlike anything or anyone. No matter who you ask, there’s a ton of different ways to dissect just how he’ll be thought of in history.
First, you can talk about Durant being one of the best players in this generation. His stats and accolades speak for themselves. Durant’s an 8x All Star, a 5x First Team All-NBA, an MVP, and an NBA champion. He was the man who put the Thunder on the map, going toe-to-toe with LeBron and the Miami Heat with his young gun OKC team before chasing a ring, which legacies are based on. Not only did Durant earn the first allusive ring, but won Finals MVP along the way in an extremely impressive fashion.
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) June 13, 2017
With all the greats, you can pinpoint one exact game or moment that sticks out more than anything else will. For Durant, it was his performance in Game 3 that locked up where he stands in history. He scored 31 points and 9 rebounds, and led the Warriors with seven points during their 11-0 run to comeback against the Cavs, essentially telling everyone the season was over.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) June 27, 2017
If Durant doesn’t hit that shot, the Cavs win Game 3, making the NBA Finals a series again. Instead, the Slim Reaper buried the Cavs under the hardwood and etched his name in NBA glory.
That’s at least the positive on-court side of Durant.
With some NBA greats, the glass is either half full or half empty, considering everyone who’s ever had access to Basketball Reference.com can come up with some specific stat that can tarnish a player’s reputation. That’s true with Durant, but at a much more extreme level. You can look at his title run and consider the glass overflowing, or you can look at how exactly he got there and it can be seen as bone dry.
Take his departure for example. Durant won his lone MVP while he was in OKC, adding the now overplayed “you’re the real MVP” phrase to go along with it. With James Harden and Russell Westbrook, they put the Thunder on the map. Then, the traitorous side of Durant happened. He left the Thunder behind, joined the team that just beat them in seven games during the WCF on their way to a title, and sent Westbrook on a one-man tear across the league like the Punisher trying to find out who murdered his kids. He joined the winningest team in regular season history along with three other All Stars and another MVP. That doesn’t exactly boost the whole “legacy” thing.
Depending on how you look at it, that either tarnishes his legacy, or destroys it all together. Some players in the past like Allen Iverson or Charles Barkley don’t have any rings, but still look better than Durant in some eyes. They might both be hardwear-less, but they never caved and joined the Bulls or the Lakers back when they were running the league. There will always be that black cloud hanging over him, no matter what he does in Golden State, or how many rings he wins along the way. Plus, anybody this bad at drinking beer deserves to be viewed as a villain.
Kevin Durant isn’t a beer guy ? pic.twitter.com/5x4uJsKaB9
— Cause It’s Humor (@CauseItsHumor) June 13, 2017
Still, it’s not as cut and dry as this. You can’t just look at what Durant has done on the court, or look how he got there and who he plays with, and call it a legacy. Everything that happens off the court makes his story even more remarkable. For example, his relationship with OKC. There’s a pretty slim chance he ever returns LeBron style after chasing his rings to win one for the team that drafted him, but he still acts as if he’s part of the city. The man was absolutely abused by plenty of Thunder fans after he left. Posting signs outside of his house calling him a coward, burning his jersey, the whole angry-fan experience. Yet still, he sold Paul George on how great it is to play there.
Kevin Durant sold Paul George on OKC.
— theScore (@theScore) July 11, 2017
Realistically George didn’t exactly have a choice considering he was traded, but now the former Pacer is excited enough about this season to say that he may not go to Laker Land next year. Even slightly putting in the good word for the Thunder makes Durant so different than others. With messy breakups like that, players just say the cookie cutter diplomatic answer and move on. To actually pitch superstars coming into your conference about how good your former team was is a whole different level.
Durant gets painted as this villain because he left OKC in the dirt to play with the best team in the league, and because he lashes out at people who go after him in the media or on Twitter. In the end, he’s just a competitor who hates losing and wants to win. It’s even to the point where he took less money to keep the band together in Golden State.
NBA Champion and Finals MVP Kevin Durant is making $25M next season. NCAA All-American + college POY JJ Redick is making $23M next season
— BC??? (@MrCraw4D) July 3, 2017
To put it even further into perspective, Jrue Holiday and Otto Porter are making a few thousand dollars less than Durant next season. Mentioning those players in the same sentence as Durant is the closest thing to blasphemy you can get in the basketball world.
Even though he’s helping out his former team and his current team in whichever way possible, the man still gets absolutely abused for leaving. Everything will always be turned into that direction, like it was when Russell Westbrook won MVP thanks to the clearly still bitter Enes Kanter.
— theScore NBA (@theScoreNBA) June 27, 2017
You can ignore it as much as you want, but when you get put on blast at the ESPYs, it’s hard to act like it doesn’t bother you.
Look, Durant’s not the strongest looking guy around, but if someone that’s 6’10 is grilling the life out of me when I’m making fun of him, I wouldn’t exactly be comfortable. Peyton’s lucky Durant was a few rows away, otherwise he would’ve given him the beating no phenomenal Papa John’s carry out deal could’ve fixed. Whether it’s “you’re the real MVP” or jokes about him joining whatever team wins at the time, he’ll forever get mocked.
— Saqr (@BaIIer_) July 13, 2017
That’s what makes it so difficult with analyzing and understanding how his legacy will be perceived when it’s all said and done. He’ll be seen as one of the best shooters in history, an MVP, and a champion. He’s also be viewed as a traitor, taking the easy way out and teaming up with the best to “ruin” the NBA for good by perfecting the superteam. Durant is also a selfless teammate who does anything he can to help all, all while becoming the punchline of any awards show stand up and semi-decent internet meme. There is nobody in the history of the NBA has that much complexion or layers around who he truly is as a basketball player.
And that right there, is Kevin Durant’s legacy.