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Horning: Love him or hate him, Durant keeps coming through for his country

  • 3 min to read
Tokyo Olympics Basketball

Kevin Durant poses for a photo with his gold medal during the United States’ men’s basketball team’s medal ceremony last Friday in Tokyo.

I don’t get Kevin Durant. Back in the day, when he was playing for Oklahoma City, I thought I did.

He was the good kid.

And “kid” seemed to be the right word, too. He’d played one season at Texas, earning Big 12 player of the year, one in Seattle because Portland chose Greg Oden No. 1, not him, in the 2007 draft and was still just 20 when the Thunder arrived in OKC.

He looked and sounded squeaky clean. Soft spoken, great player. Loved his mother, who sat courtside each night.

Eventually, he took up residence downtown, blocks from the arena. It seemed like he’d be with the Thunder forever.

Named MVP, he gave a speech that left everybody crying. He never appeared entitled. He didn’t seem to need villains, real or imagined, to put himself in the best-player-on-the-planet debate.

He just played.

Played like a dream.

Then he split.

He split for the team, Golden State, that knocked his team out. The Warriors won the last two of the seven-game 2016 Western Conference finals.

In Game 6, with a chance to eliminate the Warriors on his home court, Durant flopped, making 10 of 31 shots.

In Game 7, in Oakland, he made 10 of 19 but lacked the assertiveness he’d played with earlier in the playoffs and earlier in the series. Five weeks later, he became a Warrior.

Since, he’s been a mystery, or as big a mystery as a fantastic player can be while remaining a fantastic player.

He’s not won another season MVP award, though he has won two NBA Finals MVPs in 2017 and 2018, back-to-back with the Warriors, whose heart and soul may have been Steph Curry and Draymond Green, but whose best player was Durant.

Not that he was happy. Or appeared to be happy. Or even cared to be happy.

When one has won the world, it seems one should not engage with Twitter critics, not make their day by responding again and again. It seems one should not take on the persona of one who plays to silence doubters, because there are no doubters.

The fans in Oklahoma City may never forgive him, but if anybody’s had the last laugh, it’s Durant, from winning championships to making bazillions.

Probably, somewhere in his seemingly tortured mind, Durant must know he could have departed middle America without pegging the jilt-meter as he did.

If so, he’s never acknowledged it. He’s just continued to play great basketball without much apparent joy.

Also, last week, he won his third Olympic gold medal, leading the United States past France 87-82 in the final.

He scored 29 points in the clincher, leading everybody. He had 23 in the semifinal victory over Australia, leading everybody. He had 29 in the quarterfinal victory over Spain, which did not eclipse Ricky Rubio’s 38, but led his team.

In 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, he led the U.S. with a 19.4-point average and scored 30 in the gold medal victory over Serbia, a team led by Nikola Jokic, who’s since become a player of fine repute, winning NBA MVP honors only last season.

Four years before Rio, it was 30 points in the gold medal game, a 107-100 victory over Spain.

Kobe Bryant was on that team, as was LeBron James, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis.

Playing for Mike Krzyzewski, Durant, just 25 years old, led the U.S. in minutes, 26 per game, and points, 19.5, and the Americans rolled, prevailing by an average 32 points.

Winning in Tokyo, Durant matched Anthony as the only American male ever to win three Olympic golds.

But ‘Melo was a fourth banana behind Kobe, LeBron and Dwyane Wade in ‘08, a No. 3 to LeBron and Durant in ‘12 and a No. 2 to Durant in ‘16.

Consider these numbers: 20.7, 19.5, and19.4.

They’re the top three high-scoring averages in men’s U.S. Olympic basketball history and they’re Durant in Tokyo, Durant in London and Durant in Rio.

Not that it really matters, because gold is still gold and it’s for national rather than individual glory. But if you’re making the case for the greatest American male in Olympic basketball history, such distinctions matter and Durant is clearly that guy.

It’s not close.

There’s a clip of Durant, live as it happened via his instagram account, that you can find on YouTube and Twitter, too, walking off the court, between winning gold and talking about it in the postgame interview room, in which he, sort of beautifully and incredulously, says this:

“They had some power rankings out,” he said. “They had us fourth, behind Slovenia, talking about they catching up to us? Are you serious?”

He didn’t say it like a man who was about to agree to a $198 million contract extension with Brooklyn, which has happened since, but like a guy in genuine disbelief anybody might count U.S. basketball {em}fourth!!!

If Durant’s soul is tortured, and who knows if it really is or not, it’s ultimately unselfish and bleeds red, white and blue.

He doesn’t have to do it, yet he keeps playing for his country and keeps delivering gold.

It’s more than enough.

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning

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