OAKLAND — The narratives were everywhere, and every sports fan heard them. Including Kevin Durant.
“Yeah, I hear all the narratives throughout the season that I was joining, I was hopping on bandwagons, I was letting everybody else do the work,” Durant said. “But then that was far from the truth.”
The truth was actually the opposite — the Warriors needed Durant to get a title. Cleveland had the best player in a generation in LeBron James at the peak of his skills, surrounded by a couple other All-Stars and a quality, deep supporting cast around them. Those Cavaliers had made history coming back to beat the Warriors in the Finals a year ago.
Golden State needed Durant to change that dynamic — and he did.
Durant scored at least 30 in every Finals game, more importantly on the other end he was Golden State’s best defender on LeBron. Without Durant, these Finals likely end like the way the last one did. That’s why Durant was the unanimous Finals MVP, why he now has a ring.
“We all carry weight,” Warriors’ GM Bob Myers said. “He hears what people say, but you know he just wants to play basketball. I’m happy for him. Life doesn’t usually work out. Most times, it doesn’t. Tonight, it did for him.”
“I’m just so happy for Kevin…” Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr said. “Kevin has a very unique story, you just mentioned that. I’m just happy for him. He’s had an amazing career, but he just took it to the next level. He was incredible all season long. He had an amazing series, just dominated.”
There has been an assumption by some fans that Durant came to the Warriors because it was his easiest path to a ring. That wasn’t the case — it was Golden State’s camaraderie, their style of play, and mostly the joy that they clearly played with that were the bigger draws.
“I found that at the beginning of the year when we first went to Vancouver in the first pre-season game, just the camaraderie, just the togetherness of the whole organization,” Durant said. “That’s what it was about. We just kept — I kept building on that from day one. So that’s what I found when I came here, and I definitely appreciate just the type of people we have here from the top to bottom. So a championship is just a cherry on top.”
That joy and team atmosphere starts with the other MVP on the roster, Stephen Curry.
“And the one thing that it was a constant with us was the joy that we have for the game of basketball,” Durant said of himself and Curry. “I learned — I got a lot from him from that. He enjoys playing basketball. And his energy — I told him, his energy, we feed off of him. He’s our leader. He’s our vocal leader. He talks up — like I said, 15 free throws. He missed three free throws tonight I was pissed about, but 15 free throws and in a closeout game in The Finals, he’s a big dog.”
Durant was the big dog, the Warriors’ best player in the Finals, but he said at the start of this season his goal was to fit in, make his teammates better, and find his place in this system — and while it went as smoothly as could be expected, it wasn’t always easy.
“I remember the first day of camp and I walk into camp, and I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know what these guys were like on the court and how they came in and worked, “Durant said. “I didn’t know anything about the team. I just wanted to come in there and just be me.
“And I did that from day one, and I just tried to stay with that. I had my lows in the season where I was beating myself up, where I was struggling throughout the year, but the great part about it is I’ll get a tap on the head from Steph or a Draymond or — I can remember when we were in Sacramento and we just lost to Memphis, we gave up the lead, we were up 20 — I’m sure you guys remember — Draymond pulled me aside, we were having dinner the next night in Sacramento, and he told me to be myself. Don’t worry about anything, just be you, keep working, everything’s going to come around. And I was struggling at that point. And to have teammates that encourage you, that lift you up, that’s what we all need in life. And it was amazing to just see that all year, and right now just to be here with these guys, it’s amazing.”
Durant missed 19 games at the end of the season with a knee injury that had the potential to derail what the Warriors were building. Instead, it allowed Curry to fully find his groove, and helped turn them into the two-headed monster they wanted to be and the league feared.
When they reached the Finals, the Warriors were unleashed. And the rest of the league is right to be worried.
The way that he embraced the opportunity in The Finals, it was unbelievable,” Curry said. “It’s kind of crazy to think about the conversations we had this summer and going into the year about how we can both mesh and do what we do and be the players that we are and see it come to life in this series, it was unbelievable.
“So we’re obviously just getting started, this is something that we want to continue to do, but for us to have these conversations that we had almost a year go and now being in this position, worth every shot we took in practice, fighting through injuries that he had this year, and it’s an unbelievable feeling. I’m happy for him.
“You got to call Kevin Durant a champ now.”