There is no official poll to accompany this position, but feel tells me it’s correct. If you were to ask 100 lifelong Seattleites who their current favorite NBA player is, Kevin Durant would likely get the most first-place votes.
The city embraced him in the lone season he played for the Sonics, and he is among the few players left in the league to have suited up for that team.
Folks in this town have a genuine interest in his success. But even though KD has won two championships and two Finals MVPs, his résumé remains … complex. That’s a nicer way of saying tainted, as harsher critics may describe it.
No matter your view on him, you can’t deny that his titles came with a Warriors team that went 73-9 (and eliminated him from the playoffs) the year before he joined. As ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said at the time: “I’m viewing it as the weakest move I’ve ever seen from a superstar.”
Durant left the Warriors in 2019, though, and joined Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn that offseason. An Achilles injury kept him out last season, but he came back this season … when 2018 MVP James Harden and Blake Griffin joined the team as well.
All of a sudden, Durant was on another super team that gave him unrivaled support. Did he join knowing the Nets would eventually land Harden and Griffin? No. Could those additions, along with Irving, overshadow another championship if KD wins one? It’s hard to think that it wouldn’t.
That’s why Brooklyn’s current situation is particularly intriguing for Durant and his fans. With the Nets in a 2-2 series tie with Milwaukee, both Harden (hamstring) and Irving (ankle) are expected to be out. Turn to Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith on TNT, or Jay Williams on ESPN, and they’ll tell you that this series is over if neither returns. But turn to me, and I’ll tell you this is the opportunity Durant has been waiting for to silence his critics.
Here’s what we know about KD: He may be the best pure scorer since Michael Jordan. His 27.02 points per game are fourth all-time and tops among active players (LeBron James is just behind at 27.00 points), and his efficiency from the field is practically peerless. Even Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who coached Steph Curry and Durant during Golden State’s championship years, said KD was more impactful than Steph based on his size.
Folks seem to talk regularly about what unique players LeBron and Curry are, but Durant’s skills are equally distinct. For a 6-foot-11 forward to move, handle the ball and shoot with such accuracy is unprecedented in the NBA.
Here’s what we also know about Durant: He’s lacking in signature moments. Some might point to a late three-pointer he hit in Game 3 of the 2017 Finals vs. the Cavs, which helped give the Warriors a 3-0 lead. But that team was so stacked that a series win seemed inevitable.
More famous was his relative disappearance in the final four games of the 2016 Western Conference finals, when Golden State made a miraculous comeback to oust the Thunder. To be fair, Durant was brilliant four years earlier, when he scored 30.6 points per game in the 2012 Finals vs. the Heat. But when you don’t produce a title, people don’t remember such feats.
So now the 32-year-old is back in Brooklyn facing a Bucks team Tuesday with two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo on the other side. Now the opinion is that the once unbeatable Nets are the underdogs with Durant’s two All-NBA teammates on the mend. Now a Brooklyn elimination seems likely with the momentum swung toward a Bucks team that has won its past two games.
But more than anything — now is a chance for Kevin Durant to take over the series, get his team in the Eastern Conference finals and potentially cement his legacy as an all-time postseason performer.
Nobody will dispute Durant is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer. Some might even put him in the all-time top ten.
But now comes a chance that he doesn’t need all-world support to show he can knock off a powerhouse in the playoffs. Seattleites want to see him succeed. I can’t help but think a huge portion of the country does, too.