Kevin Durant is basketball bliss.
Game Two of the Eastern Conference semifinals almost seemed like a throwback. We rarely saw that Kevin Durant in Golden State when his brilliance was only used in code red emergencies. We thought we'd never see it again after he tore his Achilles tendon – an injury that legends like Kobe Bryant, Isiah Thomas, and Dominique Wilkins never truly recovered from.
Two years later, Durant is still, in fact, not nice.
KD combo x #PhantomCam 🔥#NBAPlayoffs #ThatsGame @NBAonTNT pic.twitter.com/VBeEFYCHlE— NBA (@NBA) June 8, 2021
There's the obvious violence in that clip. Durant moves gracefully from side to side, luring Giannis Antetokounmpo in with his signature double crossover. As Giannis opens up a sliver of space, Durant uncoils his jumper – a marvel of basketball fundamentals and human extremities. There's also the sheer audacity of the moment – Durant, a former MVP, almost effortlessly gliding around Antetokounmpo, the reigning two-time MVP and a freak by all measures, except when he faces the freakier Durant.
But any appreciation of Durant or the things Durant does is incomplete without diving into his nuanced personality. This, after all, is the same dude that felt hollow after he won his first championship. “It felt just like any other day,” Durant told Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles on the Knuckleheads podcast about waking up the day after winning the NBA championship. “You’re told it was gonna be this life-changing experience. I just felt normal.”
The same basketball savant that drops 30 on a regular basis also regularly meditates on his existence. “There’s a lot of stuff that we get distracted by, or we chasing, to make us feel a certain way,” Durant told The New York Times in one of his most revealing profiles. “When it’s really basic. We should just be experiencing everything as human beings, as much as we can. Being normal amongst each other.”
More than any other athlete, Kevin Durant reminds us athletes are more than just athletes. They are humans, just as prone to mistakes and contradictions as they are vessels for our escapism through their physical feats.
Durant choosing to go to Golden State over staying in Oklahoma City was treated as a betrayal – why would the most gifted basketball player in league history, the figure of loyalty in LeBron James' superteam era, choose to embrace the dark side? When in reality, Durant was just like any other young kid in his mid-20s looking for his place in the world. He was told that joining a dynasty would bring fulfillment.
Today, plenty of things bring Durant fulfillment. He, like many other black star athletes, has started a corporation that has its hands on everything from entertainment to tech startups. From living in a tiny house in Maryland, he has his family and future generation of Durants set for life. He's become comfortable in his fame, enough to continue to find common ground with the reporters and Twitter trolls he contends with.
On the basketball court, he has nothing left to prove. He's become a champion, an MVP, and a first-ballot future Hall of Famer. Which is why when he was given an exit through an Achilles injury that has gotten the best of many other athletes, we’re lucky he didn't quit. For some reason, he signed with the Nets, took his karmic basketball partners with him, and still worked to get back to form.
Now, Brooklyn looks like the favorite to win this year’s title. It would be the first NBA championship in franchise history, the first NBA championship from a New York team since Clyde Frazier's New York Knicks won one in 1973. Knowing KD, none of that matters to him. For some ethereal reason he's still pondering, he still loves playing basketball.
“The whole world just feels brighter to me. That’s how I know it must be something. It ain’t just a game. Because I seen my whole world change. Not necessarily the success, or the money. It’s just like: I’m seeing people differently. God’s got his hand on every court in the world,” he told the New York Times. “It’s amazing. It makes me emotional, because it’s just like, damn, I didn’t know the game could make me think that deep, and feel that deep.”
One day, Kevin Durant won't be a basketball player anymore. He might become an owner. He'll probably become a philanthropist. For now, we’re blessed that we continue to experience KD, basketball's Martin Scorsese.