When Kevin Durant decided to leave Oklahoma City, decided to leave Russell Westbrook, and decided to come west and try his hand alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, he knew he’d face a barrage of criticism and negativity from the media and from fans. But, perhaps, he didn’t expect it to get quite so intense.
Now, fresh off leading Team USA to a third consecutive gold medal—scoring 30 points in the final, definitive romp over Serbia—Durant is finding a new sense of joy, freedom, and purpose. He seems to have successfully weathered the media and fan-driven fire storm following his monumental decision to join the Warriors, and he seems to be coming to peace with his place in life both on and off the court.
Speaking to The Vertical’s Michael Lee, Durant had this to say:
“[Playing with Team USA] was therapy for me after making a big change in my life. It made my life easier … I knew [a backlash] was coming. It was definitely different for me, but to come here in an environment where people accepted me and didn’t care about anything except being my buddy, that’s what I needed.”
You could see it in the way he moved on court, the way he carried himself, and the ease with which he interacted with his teammates. Durant is a changed man. For, in truth, having to face such adversity—be it in the form of old friends turning their back on you (Westbrook), a once-adoring media villainizing you, or fellow NBA players (and former greats) questioning your “desire to win”—inevitably changes the way you approach the world. No matter what happens next year—no matter how many games the Warriors win, no matter how smoothly Durant integrates into Steve Kerr’s system alongside Stephen Curry—Durant will always have this summer. When the going gets tough next season, he’ll be able to look back at his experience in Rio and remember that even facing a maelstrom of criticism, he was able to put a whole team and a whole nation on his back and lead them to gold.
There’s no therapy quite like finding success just by being yourself. Durant understands who he is and what he can accomplish when he just relaxes and lets the game come to him. Now that he’s settled in to his new reality, it’s time to see what he can accomplish playing in a system perfectly suited for his strengths. What can he do over the course of a full season with ball movement, floor spacing, and blisteringly talented shooters alongside him?
As he told USA Today a few days ago after Team USA defeated Argentina:
“I told myself before I left my room, I’m at my best if I don’t care if we win or lose. It might be different for other players. But for me, I’m more free and aggressive, and it's way more fun for me if I don’t care about the outcome. I know if I go out there and be who I am, the outcome will dictate itself.”
Man, I’m getting goosebumps.