Even in his glory, Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant can’t help but hear the hecklers.
He just dropped 43 points on the Cleveland Cavaliers, including a last-minute dagger 3-pointer that pushed them to a 3-0 NBA Finals deficit — a shot much like the one last year he called “the best moment I ever had,” a “game-winning shot in the finals against my f***ing idol” that felt like a passing of the torch. And there he was, chirping at a bald middle-aged Cavs fan on his way to the locker room:
KD gave it to the Cavs fans, too pic.twitter.com/5AiyeVcVST
— Ben Rohrbach (@brohrbach) June 7, 2018
At the podium afterwards, his idol, LeBron James, told reporters of Durant, “He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played against — that this league has ever seen,” and the reigning Finals MVP, who appears to be headed toward another one, described the recreation of his torch-passing moment thusly: “I’m not done playing basketball yet, so I don’t really look at these as defining moments.”
We have difficulty processing Durant, because on one hand he’s doing what he came to Golden State to do, delivering legendary performances on the game’s biggest stage to fulfill the rings requirement for an all-time great, and on the other he’s still the guy who left the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the team he nearly beat in the 2016 Western Conference finals. Still the guy who threw his former coach and teammates under the bus in what seemed like some failed tweets from a burner account.
KD has secret accounts that he uses to defend himself and forgot to switch to them when he was replying to this guy I'm actually speechless pic.twitter.com/9245gnpa3c
— go cavs ig (@harrisonmc15) September 18, 2017
“At that time in my career, I didn’t know how other people felt about my game,” Durant told The Athletic in the oral history of his July 2016 Hamptons meeting that was published this week. “And I knew that I was pretty damn good and I knew I worked extremely hard, but I needed that validation from my peers and teams and GMs, people that are really into the game, to really help me feel good about myself and help me feel confident and let me know that what I was doing was working.
“So when they all came, and they all put stuff to the side to come to the meeting, I was like, man, this is amazing. Best team in the league, some of the best players, most accomplished players want me on their team and want what I do, what I bring to the table. It was pretty cool, you know what I’m saying?”
Yet, he’s still the guy who claps back after Game 3 at a heckler who yells “UT’s butt” — a reference to his alma mater — and “Where LeBron at?” at him on his way into the team hotel in Cleveland:
Like, “UT’s butt” really got to him. That’s weird. It’s a weird thing to yell and a weirder thing to elicit enough of a response from an NBA superstar that two people need to tell him it’s not worth his time.
I don’t want to read too much into the profound lack of joy on Durant’s face after he made what amounts to another title-clinching dagger, so I’ll let him explain his void of emotion in that moment:
“Don’t get me wrong, every time I make a shot in the NBA I get excited,” he told reporters from the podium afterwards. “I just internalize it a little bit as I get older a little bit more than I did as a younger player.
“So I was definitely excited. It’s hard to make shots at this level in the NBA, and I understand that. But at the same time I knew the game wasn’t over. I’ve seen some crazy stuff happen in my years of playing basketball, not just in the NBA but just overall. We were up 6 with 25 seconds to go, I think. So anything could happen, man.”
Durant has talked a lot about how he came to the Warriors to enjoy playing basketball again, and at the same time he’s said, “After winning that  championship, I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t. That’s when I realized in the offseason that the only thing that matters is this game and how much work you put into it. Everything else off the court, social media, perception, isn’t important. What people say, how they view you, it’s not important.”
It’s kind of sad, then, to see what should be another conquering moment be disrupted because he can’t help but let someone yelling “UT’s butt” inside his head, almost like the hero has this tragic flaw. We should like him more for this. He’s still figuring himself out, and we are, too, even in his glory.
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