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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

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Arts + CultureSportsShould the Warriors bring back Kevin Durant?

Should the Warriors bring back Kevin Durant?

As rumblings continue, retrospectively honoring KD’s decision to join Golden State in 2016

First things first: I wasn’t happy in the summer of 2016 when Kevin Durant announced his move to the NBA leading, 73-win Golden State Warriors. I knew it would bring Dub Nation as much glory as it would drama; his tenure included the highs of hoisted trophies and the lows of bitter, complaining fans who would use KD’s arrival to dismiss a painstakingly-built Warriors dynasty.

After winning two championships here and collecting two Finals MVPs, the Slim Reaper jettisoned the Bay for Brooklyn in 2019, and a strange but memorable chapter in Warriors lore had closed. It was beautiful, and it was ugly. But it happened.

Now, there are once again rumblings of Durant rejoining the Dubs in 2022—though, it seems far less likely than before and would cost the Warriors a surplus of their best, youngest talents. 

Still, it may be a possibility. It’s summer all over. The NBA is in the middle of a yawning off-season. Kevin Durant hasn’t suited up for Golden State in over two seasons. But here I am, watching highlights of KD’s historic 2016–2019 run in the Bay Area, feeling inspired by the man’s polarizing decision to join the best team in the League—and his audacity to entertain it once again after the Warriors have shot their way back to the top as four-time champs.

I grew up watching the Warriors throughout the 1990s and 2000s—from elementary school to community college—without missing much. I’ve seen their uniforms change four times, and could list off every lottery pick bust, embarrassing blowout loss, and decades of miserable free agent signings I’ve witnessed as a faithful fan. For half my lifetime, there wasn’t much to look forward to as a supporter of the Dubs. Only Ls. And although the “We Believe” era was electric, it was short-lived.

Then the Splash Brothers came along and brought us glory, and things were never the same. Seemingly overnight, our team caught fire (or water?) and became the ones to cheer, the ones to hate, the ones to talk about on ESPN every night. It felt surreal. So when that hype culminated with the first Kevin Durant signing in 2016 after we had already bagged a ring and posted the best winning percentage in the NBA’s existence, I was definitely… disappointed. I had watched this organization develop itself with a gritty, persistent blue-collar identity that defined East Oakland—where the team was located for over 40 years—only to see an outside superstar come steal the show once we were in the national spotlight in preparation for a move to Frisco.

I remember seeing the earliest Durant posters plastered at BART stations everywhere, feeling betrayed that he had already supplanted Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green in the Bay Area’s imagination. Generations of players, coaches, fans, and arena workers had built these Warriors, but suddenly it felt like we were giving it all away to this 6-foot-10 hired gun.

I stayed loyal to my squad and kept watching, but I’ll admit that those first games with KD felt uncomfortable. “It’s not fair,” “that’s cheating,” “they took the easy way out.” Every game I had to hear someone whining, whether it was a shit-talking friend, the internet, or sports media. And I bought into it at first; maybe this wasn’t the best move to make. Maybe this shouldn’t have happened. Until I realized: who are any of us to judge a player’s success, to determine what’s the right or wrong decision for them and their career, based on our views of a sport we have no skin in? And more most importantly as fans, why shouldn’t we get to appreciate the best display of basketball we’ve ever seen?

The Warriors were a historically epic team with Kevin Durant—a historically epic player—and together, they made epic NBA history. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that the point of professional sports—to entertain and inspire and achieve victory?

Some called it the easy way. Some called it cheating. But I’m convinced it was perfection. And it wasn’t nearly as effortless as it seems to get dismissed as—otherwise every player and organization would have already achieved it by adding one All-Star player to their team. Teams have tried this formula throughout the Association’s history, but they’ve failed. 

Remember former MVP Charles Barkley leaving Phoenix in ‘96 to play with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in Houston (three Hall of Famers)? How about Karl Malone and Gary Payton joining the Lakers to win with Shaq and Kobe in ‘04 (four Hall of Famers)? Or Kevin Garnett leaving Minnesota for a “mega deal” in ‘07 to team up with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in Boston (three HoF)? And don’t get me started on LeBron’s constant reshifting of every roster he has ever joined (most notoriously when he got Chris Bosh to ditch Canada to win with him and D-Wade in Miami; and is currently trying to do in LA after recruiting AD out of New Orleans).

Players leave teams, players want to win, players unite at various points in their careers—it’s been done before. It’s just that no one did it as perfectly primed as KD and the Warriors did. What they built was something far more superior (statistically and culturally speaking) than nearly every other roster assembled in NBA history—despite those teams’ best efforts to make it work. And I’ve come to see the beauty in that.

This is my apology to Durant for not backing him from day one. This is my declaration against all of those who are still (and believe me, there are plenty) complaining about the Warriors and Durant being “fake” or “snake” champions—as if there is some gatekeeping fairy waving a wand in sportsland declaring who is worthy and who isn’t based on biased, constantly shifting definitions of “real.”

Now that Durant is no longer in the Bay, I’ve taken a moment to genuinely appreciate what he achieved while he was here. On a personal level, I admire the hell out of him as a human and an athlete—despite the constant hate he receives online. None of us will ever know the amount of pressure the dude must’ve been under his whole life just to reach that level of elite, godly performance. And very few of us would’ve had the self-conviction to actually follow our desires in that singular moment when he decided to leave the Thunder.

Isn’t that why free agency exists? So that individuals can validate their talents on a winning team? But since he and the Warriors were too good, let’s take down the banners? I’m not saying that the Warriors should trade it all away to bring him back again—in fact, I don’t think they should—but I am grateful for the dominant run he had while he was in Oakland. 

I applaud KD for doing the thing that the world criticized him for: looking out for him. And in doing so, he gave us some of the splashiest moments and hate-inducing championships the NBA has ever seen.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

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