On June 30th, first through tweets by Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania then officially on The Boardroom’s Instagram account, the news broke that Kevin Durant would leave the Golden State Warriors to play for the Brooklyn Nets. For many Warriors fans, this was an inevitability, something they thought was coming, and they were ready for the whole saga to be over. But for your author, the news was still shocking and definitely affecting.
Part of it was because I was skeptical of the “it’s a done deal/there’s so much smoke” narrative — I didn’t trust any of the other teams, especially the New York Knicks, to pull off the coup of the century by securing a clandestine agreement from Durant even before the season was over— and thought that, in the end, Bob Myers and company would seal the deal.
I realize now that I underestimated Durant’s desire to find something new and how the proverbial well had been poisoned by the national media, preventing that Durant-Curry partnership from properly blossoming.
But that was how I read the terrain and subsequently his leaving was still a surprise. It was not a shock that filled me with rage or anger, but rather one that left me stunned and lacking the words.
Beyond that shock, it was news that struck a chord and had an effect upon me, for reasons much more personal.
Where it all began
I’ve mentioned this before in my writing at Golden State of Mind, but it bears repeating because it is so relevant to the story I want to tell. I’m a bit of an anomaly amongst the denizens of Dub Nation because even though I was born and raised in the Bay Area rooting for the Warriors, my undergraduate education occurred deep in the heart of Texas and I am an alum of the University of Texas at Austin and an ardent fan of their sports teams.
I was a student there during one of the greatest stretches for any college athletic program, the mid 2000s. Along with both a college football and college baseball championship in 2005, there were two Elite Eight appearances for our basketball team that bracketed a season in which perhaps the greatest player in program history suited up for the Longhorns— Kevin Durant.
That a basketball player of Durant’s magnitude would come to Austin (not a marquee college basketball program when compared with the other traditional powers) and embrace the school (even if he only played there for one year), made me a Durant fan for life. His on-court dominance, playing some of the best basketball in the history of the program while amassing just about every individual award he could win that season, certainly helped.
But I always wanted to see Durant succeed after he entered the league in the 2007 NBA Draft (in so far as his success didn’t directly hurt the Warriors). In 2011 and 2012, when the Warriors were still a ways away from relevance in the Western Conference, I wanted to see Durant rise up and usurp the title of “Best Player” from LeBron James.
Durant coming to the Warriors was the definition of my dream come true. It was the move I would make on whatever basketball video game I was playing, I’d start my franchise and then immediately try to trade for Durant. My favorite non-Warriors player, who I’d gotten to watch in person in college, coming to play for the NBA team that I’d been rooting for my whole life. As a basketball lover and fan, it was everything I could ever want.
So when the rumors began to circulate and Durant took meetings in the Hamptons during the Summer of 2016, I knew what I wanted to happen. The depth and/or rim protection the Warriors might have been losing didn’t matter, I knew it made the league seem unbalanced, I did not care.
When the news broke on July 4th, 2016 that Durant would sign with the Warriors, I was ecstatic. As blasphemous as it sounds, it was as good (for me, personally) as winning a championship. The pain and sadness from the way the 2016 season ended faded away and I was left with a feeling of joy and triumph.
Was the Durant-as-Warrior experience rewarding?
Now at the end of Durant’s tenure with the Warriors, a question comes to mind—was it as good as I thought it would be? The short answer is a resounding yes.
Durant delivered on everything the Warriors asked from him. Two championships for the Warriors with Durant winning two Finals MVPs and making some of the most iconic shots in franchise history, he accomplished it all. Durant was even having the best postseason of his career in 2019 before he was felled with multiple injuries.
For someone who was invested in Durant and the Warriors before the two joined forced, it was an immensely satisfying period in that regard. Durant’s play with the Warriors was a powerful rebuke to those who challenged or criticized him for joining the Warriors. Facing an unheard of amount of scrutiny, Durant played some of the most complete basketball of his career, especially in the playoffs. The “soft” and “cupcake” labels just didn’t make sense any more when Durant excelled under the harshest of spotlights while other “tougher” players have wilted under much less pressure.
As I mentioned on an episode of Dr. Tom and the Gold Blooded King, I believe that the 2017 playoffs was the ideal for this Warriors squad. It was their greatest moment and when they were at their best, going 16-1 in those playoffs (and the only loss coming because the Cleveland Cavaliers made an anomalous amount of three-pointers in one game).
It was also when Durant, as an individual, was at his best and most unstoppable. Those 2017 playoffs, and the 2017 Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers in particular, are probably my favorite moments as a basketball fan and what I see as the high point for this Warriors dynasty.
And yet, when faced with that question about whether or not it was as good as I thought it would be... I hesitate. There were those glorious moments but it still doesn’t feel like it was as good as it could have been, as good as I thought and hoped it would be.
Regardless of whether the Stephen Curry versus Durant “debate” really mattered, it was still something that a Warriors fan such as myself had to deal with. It made me not enjoy the play of other players I love watching and cheering for (Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) because I felt as though I had to make up for the (perceived) lack of support for Durant amongst the more vocal sections of Warriors fandom.
While the 2017 season and playoffs were about as good as things could be, the 2019 season was the least enjoyable or fulfilling. It wasn’t just about the back-and-forth with the fellow denizens of Dub Nation, feeling forced to stick up for Durant at the expense of enjoying watching my other favorite players. The way Durant and the Warriors’ season was discussed made it near impossible. The amplification of certain rumors that turned out to not be true, demanding that Durant address the moves of another team, playing body-language analysis from a distance regarding Durant’s on-court demeanor, theorizing that the Warriors were actually better when Durant wasn’t playing, it never seemed to stop.
I could understand the notion that 2019 could be Durant’s last season with the Warriors coming up at the beginning of the season, when prognosticators were making their various predictions regarding what will happen and when there was no actual games to discuss.
But the constant and omnipresent speculation throughout the season, based on nothing truly substantial even as this team continued to win games at a remarkable rate and looked poised to play in their fifth-straight NBA Finals, made it impossible for someone interested in Durant to really enjoy this season.I wrote about this at the midway point of the 2018-19 campaign.
When one notes that this team is playing so well, with so many talented and interesting players, those who cover the team should realize there’s more than enough to talk about regarding the present. There might be smoke there regarding the Durant-to-the-Knicks noise, but there’s the raging fire of this team’s championship aspirations that should be the concern of those there to write about basketball.
Everything was made to be about why Durant was leaving (or, in his own mind, already having left), even when it wasn’t really.
If Curry or Thompson have big games, invariably someone is going to bring up how happy Durant did or did not look (while, obviously, not being privy to what is going on in his head). If Durant is reticent, does that mean he’s on his way out? If he’s fired up and intimated, does that mean he’s mad at his teammates and that’s why he’s going to leave? There couldn’t just be Durant and the Warriors. Everything had to be placed into this narrative and it kept the season from being enjoyable.
Durant had one of the best seasons of his career in 2018-19 but you wouldn’t have known that from the way he was covered. By giving into the conjecture, speculation, and gossip (best represented by how the Knicks trading away Kristaps Porzingis was a surefire sign that Durant was going there and that he needed to talk about the move [made by a team he did not play for] to the media), it prevented proper discussion of how well both Durant and the Warriors were playing.
The way his commitment and dedication to the Warriors was questioned, you would have thought he was holding the team back when, in reality, he might have been their best player.
Was that all there is?
With Durant moving on to Brooklyn, I find myself as a basketball fan with no other high to chase. Will other Warriors championships be better my team winning the title with my favorite player who I watched in person while at college leading the way? I mean, I hope I have to find out but that seems like a tough feeling to beat. There’s also the knowledge that any titles the Warriors win without Durant will be used by some to diminish his extensive contributions to this dynasty, means that Durant’s departure leaves me feeling particularly empty.
I’m also never going to have that same kind of relationship with another player that I had with Durant so there’s no chance of something like this happening again. That time in my life, when the proverbial cement was still wet, is gone. So it’s not a matter of the Warriors getting another player who played for the Longhorns. That’s not the issue.
I got everything I wanted and yet I’m left wondering...
Just as Durant found the post-championship feeling a bit hollow, the good feelings fleeting, I’ve had a similar experience when it comes to my basketball-fandom wish fulfillment. There were these moments when it was really great and special but now, at the end, I’m left unsatisfied. Would it have been better (for me, personally) if Durant had never come to the Warriors? Is it better to not get exactly what you want? Will you always be somewhat underwhelmed and disappointed if you get everything you want? I don’t know the answers to these questions.
I do know that the past three years have been the best years of my basketball-watching life. Though I understand why Durant would want to move on and join a different team while facing another new challenge, I’m incredibly sad the Durant-on-the-Warriors years are behind us.
I’m trying to not dream that it’s over but there’s no escaping it—it is.
Once the season starts, when there’s actual basketball to watch and the day-to-day things to focus on, some of this empty melancholy will disappear and I’ll be focused on hoping the Warriors make another run at the title. But right now, in the middle of the summer and the NBA off-season, it’s quite easy to feel dejected as you have to sit with the news that your favorite player has elected to move on from your favorite team.