The aforementioned players listed above have a few things in common. For one, they all are Hall of Fame members. Secondly, the sextet has zero titles between them. Third, none of the players went “ring chasing”. This premise has become en vogue in recent years.
There was a time in which Kevin Durant appeared destined for this list. During his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he achieved plenty from an individual standpoint. Durant won the 2014 MVP award and was a 7-time All-Star selection. There’s no doubt that the Washington D.C. native will be a Hall of Fame inductee at the conclusion of his career.
In terms of winning at the highest level, Durant’s teams often fell short. The Thunder made seven-straight playoffs — with one finals appearance in 2012. A Lebron James-led Heat team smashed OKC, winning the series by a score of 4-1. Last year, the Thunder held a 3-1 advantage over a reeling Warriors squad. With Durant and Russell Westbrook clicking on all cylinders, it appeared as if the Thunder may have been on the cusp of getting over the proverbial hump — whilst solidifying themselves as a serious finals contender in the process.
Alas, the team choked — dropping three-straight en route to an unceremonious exit. It marked the third time in five years in which OKC lost in the Western Conference Finals.
As the old adage goes, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Durant took this premise to heart — as he spurned the Thunder in favor of signing with with the Golden State Warriors.
This decision rocked the entire landscape of the NBA. The true epitome of a polarizing opinion, many were vehemently against Durant’s decision. To be fair, Durant has every right to do what he chooses as it pertains to joining an NBA franchise.
From a basketball standpoint, it makes compete sense. He joined arguably the most talented team in the league. Durant’s work load will (in theory) be lessened when compared to his previous place of employment. The Warriors set an NBA record for accruing the most regular season wins…and this was without the services of Durant. Duly, the core of Durant, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson are all entering their individual primes.
On the other hand…Durant took the easy way out. It doesn’t speak ill of Durant’s character, but rather the ever-changing culture of the NBA. As comedian/actor Michael Rapaport accurately puts it, the NBA is currently plagued by a “skinny jeanification” process.
Essentially, Rapaport speaks to the lack of rivalry, competitiveness, and hate between players today. This “buddy-buddy” feel has been illuminated even further by the fact that many of the top players in the game today often hang out with one another off the court.
When delving into the annals of the NBA, this often was not the case. It would be rare for amiability to exist between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird during their respective heydays.
Additionally, it was unheard of for a superstar to switch franchises with a shot at winning a ring. It was generally a situation in which a player would be competing against — rather than joining your rival.
Durant obviously did not subscribe to this doctrine. Now in the finals, he’s in a better position to capture that elusive ring than ever before in his career.
Players from previous eras have been somewhat critical of those “chasing the rings.” In Durant’s case, he — unintentionally or not — shifted the balance of the league out of whack. Golden State became even more of a ‘super team’, and the move effectively crippled OKC from being seriously competitive.
Winning the championship this season could propel Durant onto a dynastic path with the Warriors. Of course, one’s career will look better with a ring in tow.
Golden State is expected to win this series — particularly since it fields two of the top five players in the game today. Durant in all likelihood wouldn’t be looked at as the ‘leader’ of this group — but rather an exceptionally talented mercenary hired to achieve glory. Should the Warriors lose, Durant will likely not be the one fielding much of the blame.
As such, will this Finals outcome impact Durant’s legacy one way or another?
In a word, no.
His decision to join Golden State in the first place will forever offer an asterisk next to his career.
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