I had no opinion of him before Monday night, but I’ll be a Kevin Durant fan for life.
Game five of the NBA finals was obviously a great game, an example of basketball played at the highest possible level. And tonight’s should be no less riveting. But I can’t stop reliving the events that led up to the game, which in my book constitute one of the best sports stories of the decade, if not the century.
The Golden State Warriors were unstoppable, then Kevin Durant joined the team and they became even less stoppable. They’ve been on an incredible run of back-to-back championships, and seemed destined for a third. But nothing’s ever perfect, as Durant remained the perennial outsider on a team he helped to carry. Because he joined after their first championship in 2015, fans and teammates alike viewed him as less important than Steph Curry, even if he’s a better player. So he was planning on leaving the Warriors for a team he could call his own.
You know all of this, but it bears repeating.
A month ago, Kevin Durant strains a calf muscle and misses the first four games of the NBA finals. It does not go well for his team, as they quickly find themselves down three games to one, facing elimination. Durant is their last hope. So what does he do? He plays, risking his long-term health for the good of a team that he feels slighted by.
Everyone knows what happened next, but it almost doesn’t matter. His decision to play, for the sheer reason that his team needed him, is one of the most incredible athletic displays of character I can remember. Even if he hadn’t re-injured himself, even if he scored 50 points, even if he didn’t make a single basket, it would have been admirable. He had everything to lose and very little to gain. Sure, there was a championship on the line, but he had to know that if the Warriors end up winning, it will once again reflect better on Curry than it would on him. His devotion to the integrity of the game and his team is something I’ll never forget.
From a Fuel perspective, I think this is all important for two reasons. One, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m increasingly convinced that society needs heroic figures to unite us and set an example. When left to our own devices, human beings can be a pretty nasty bunch. But when people are able to rise above the divisiveness we create and do something undeniably great, something we can all root for, it brings us together. People like Kevin Durant serve as daily reminders of the human spirit at its absolute best, and they make us all better.
The other, more easily applicable lesson from this is the importance of committing to your current task. In some combination of bragging and lamenting, I frequently mention my tendency to over-plan everything. I’m constantly looking five and ten years ahead, always have my eye on the next career prize. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but you only get to the next step by driving a train through whatever is in your way. Durant’s complete and utter devotion to the task at hand is something we can all learn from. Consider how much he had to look forward to: a new contract that would pay him more money, a new city where he’d be hailed as a savior, years and years of NBA superstardom, a chance to pad his stats and cement his place on the list of all time greats. A serious injury could jeopardize all that. But rather than play it safe to protect the future, he got on the court. His team needed him, the current season was on the line, so he focused on that.
I certainly wish Kevin Durant all the best with his health, and I’ll certainly be cheering for the Warriors tonight. But regardless of what happens next, Durant’s choice to play on Monday night should command our admiration forever.