It was a move that was easy to hate.
Kevin Durant was a man lauded for his uncanny ability to put the ball in the basket (four-time scoring champion and member of the ultra-elite efficiency 50-40-90 club in 2013). He was also recognized for his character on and off the basketball court, more so when he delivered that tear-jerker of a speech in accepting his NBA MVP award in 2014. Or when he chose to take away all the attention and drama on his contract status in 2010 when he announced his five-year extension on Twitter.
Remember those times? Or even that one time he called Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban an idiot in defense of former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook?
There’s no shame in saying you don’t recall such things without some technological help. Not a lot of people remember those times they cheered on Durant for doing what they thought was the honorable thing to do. It’s because the same fact holds true in the basketball court, in the office, in a relationship, in life in general: All the good things you’ve done get washed away with the deluge of opinions that come with your last so-called mistake.
For Durant, the culprit was moving to the Golden State Warriors.
No one outside the Bay Area and the hard-core Durant fanatics took this as acceptable behavior for a sportsman. Understandably, the older generation, hanging on to values of loyalty and machismo that fueled their longing for old-school rivalries, labeled Durant a coward, a bullied kid who got tired of being bullied by joining the bullies. But even millennials knocked the switch as something beneath them despite the prevalence of career shifts and taking the easier path in their age group.
Admit it, it was one of those shockers that changed the NBA landscape. Whatever team or player you’re rooting for, Durant moving to Golden State gave you that intense feeling that either keeps you still for a few moments or moves you to blurt out expletives. Still, it came as a bit of a shock to hear people say at the start of the NBA Finals trilogy between Durant’s new Warriors team and the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers, "Ayoko kay LeBron [James] pero for the first time in my life, Cavs ako."
James had moved on from one of the most hated players in the league to discussions about his place in the all-time greats, passing ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ status to Durant.
But the noise of the "cupcake," "coward," "pussy" chants, the fury and the vitriol Durant has dealt with throughout the season, has been dying down with the Warriors winning its second title in three years. Perhaps because another real-life principle applies in the realm of basketball: time heals all wounds and winning makes the healing faster.
The Warriors have redeemed themselves from last year's nightmarish end to (what was supposed to be) a dream season, despite an otherworldly Finals performance from James, who averaged a triple-double with 32 points, 12.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists. And no one has led Golden State’s dominance more than Durant.
"Ang galing ni Durant!" some exclaimed, out of joy or frustration depending on your team affiliation, after a masterful Game 1 outing, like they forgot how great the man was at playing basketball.
By the end of Game 3, even James failed to remember for a moment as he let Durant walk up to the three-point line in a crucial time of the match to deliver the biggest shot of the series by far.
"Ang galing kasi ni Durant," others said with a hint of disgust as if to discredit the Warriors’ 15-0 run so far in the playoffs due to its unfair collection of talent in the roster.
However you feel about the events in the NBA Finals, it remains clear Durant is serving a refresher to all those who forgot how he once was considered a worthy rival to James’ throne as the best player in the game today, and he’s doing so in the biggest stage, in the best possible time, with one ice-cold dagger after another.
Durant has been the Finals’ leading scorer with 34 points on 56.1 percent shooting, a jaw-dropping 52.4 percent from beyond the arc, while putting up gaudy numbers on defense with 10 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1.3 steals. The scoring has long been a given, but the defensive improvement has been an eye-opener even for those who’ve followed the former Texas Longhorn’s career in the NBA.
One ring didn’t absolve James of his so-called sins from ‘The Decision’ to the pompous declaration of "Not one, not two, not three..." rings to Miami. But he has been forgiven in the eyes of many of his critics after delivering the title to Cleveland last year.
This championship will not sway Durant’s critics to be just as forgiving, but it’s doubtful one can keep doubting his greatness for long. With uncertainties in the draft, free agency and player movement that could shift the balance in the NBA at any time, there might even be a new player (or parent, we’re looking at you, LaVar) NBA fans would love to hate more than the soon-to-be named Finals MVP of the 2017 champion Warriors.