We thought we knew Kevin Durant. The best scorer on the planet & certifiable chairman of the nice guy club. But there is a fundamental flaw in Nice guys, sports history bears witness. David Robinson. Shaq in his early days. Dwight Howard. Pre-2012 Lebron James.
They’re too considerate. Smile too much. Too humble. Want to be loved. But winning is not about making friends. Winning is not about being liked.
It takes certain anger to win. An anger focused into a refusal to accept losing as a possibility. It takes toughness. A certain type of psychosis. An uncompromising pathos.
This is not necessarily something you’re born with. It can be acquired. It can be cultivated. Michael may have had it but he sharpened it to medically alarming levels that make therapists shudder. A weapon he forged from the rage of the countless tackles and takedowns at the hands of Rodman’s Pistons.
Kobe, another player infamous for his maniacal mean streak was actually a happy-go-lucky teenager when he first got to the league — winning rookie game MVPs, dunking between his legs and taking Brandy to the prom, all while flashing a wide smile radiating an unmistakably innocent glow. An innocence that was soon lost…
Every setback adds up, but there is always a definitive moment in time, a the break in the narrative where we are suddenly faced with something that is at once familiar yet all-together different. When we look back at Kevin Durant’s career, this stretch will be marked as the emergence of Iceberg Slim — the worlds most lethal basketball machine.
In Kevin’s case it all began with the 2012 loss to Miami in the Finals. Suddenly ‘happy to be here’ wasn’t enough. Then Harden was traded before the beginning of the 2012–13 season, leaving a gaping void in the team’s young core. A void that would have to be filled by committee, but also specifically by Durant. He needed to do more than just score, he needed to make plays — winning plays. He seemingly played the entire season with a chip on his shoulder, establishing the Thunder as the team to beat in the west, but Westbrook’s unexpected knee injury in the first round of the playoffs left them looking beaten. Another setback. Another season wasted.
They began this season on unsure footing too, but got Westbrook back ahead of schedule and suddenly everything was just right in the state of Oklahoma. The young role players were developing, Serge was stepping into the role of the 3rd scorer and defensive anchor (not just shot-blocker), and Russel & KD were unquestionably the league’s most lethal one-two punch since the days of Shaq & Kobe.
The Thunder were 23–5 when they beat the Knicks on Christmas day, with Westbrook logging a triple double in just 3 quarters. Things couldn’t have been better… & then disaster struck — Westbrook went down with a second knee injury and there was a terrifying sense of deja-vu. All the momentum they had been building had just been lost. It seemed like a haymaker the team would not be able to recover from. It’s timing vicious, cruel and crippling.
The next day when Durant said “I need Reggie Jackson. I need Serge Ibaka. I need Kendrick Perkins. I’m not afraid to say that… I need to lean on those guys, just like we need to lean on each other. That is what team is about. So through adversity we just have to lean on each other.” it sounded like a plea for help. Words of a leader trying to be brave in the face on unavoidable defeat.
The Thunder sputtered along, playing mediocre basketball, going 5 — 5 in the next 10 even though Kevin was doing all he could (including two 48 point games) — or so it seemed.
They followed that with a win against the Rockets, heading into a match-up against the Warriors the very next night. The teams had played each other to a virtual draw in their two earlier meetings, each game being decided on a last second shot. This time KD was having none of it.
This was the game marked what may be the most significant moment in the NBA for years to come. This player who dropped 54 was a different beast. One we’d never seen before. In seemingly an instant everything changed. This season was no longer about Miami. This league, this planet was no longer Lebron’s. Kevin Durant had seized the basketball zeitgeist by its throat and coerced a coronation. In fact Kevin Durant as we knew him was dead. Long live Iceberg Slim (mad props to Jalen Rose for coining this moniker).
What followed has been historic and meteoric (I see you Clyde) & here are the best bits:
There was the Portland game where they trailed 93–90 in the fourth quarter when Durant slammed his hand on the scorer’s table & was whistled for a technical foul. Durant then scored in the lane, made a 3-pointer, and told the Portland bench “I’m about to take this shit over.” OKC closed the game on a 15–4 run (Durant had 11) to beat the Blazers.
The Hawks Game where he scored 41 points including a game winner against a double team to cap his team’s comeback.
& the statement game against Lebron & the Heat!
“Kevin Durant was on my television putting up 33 points on 52 percent shooting, as he completely destroyed the Heat defense in a blowout win in Miami. Wow! What an incredible feat! This is the stuff kings are made of … NO … superheroes are made of … NO … GODS ARE MADE OF!” — Jason Gallager
& What is truly terrifying is that as unbelievably good as he is right now, he is just 25 and HAS NOT ENTERED HIS PRIME YET!!!
& in other news, clinical depression is at an all time high among former Supersonics fans. Sorry Seattle!