Today could be the end of 2017 NBA season, as the Golden State Warriors are on pace to sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals. The Warriors have controlled the momentum of the entire series so far, dominating every game — even the close ones weren't that close. And finally, Kevin Durant is one game away from getting that big gold Finals MVP trophy and an NBA championship ring.
But how valid will Kevin Durant’s championship ring be if he defeats LeBron James and the Cavs? I mean, of course it will be valid — acknowledged by the league and celebrated by his fans — but how will true competitors receive his victory? How much respect can we give a superstar who signed with a team that didn’t really need him or his one-of-a-kind skill set at all?
Last year KD shocked the world when he signed with the Golden State Warriors for a number of reasons. The Oklahoma City duo of KD and Russell Westbrook was one of the best in league history. Often compared to the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, these two played in multiple All-Star games, made it to the finals and tore the NBA apart every year. Together they accomplished almost everything, except winning a championship — which lead to the second reason why KD caught everyone off guard.
The OKC Thunder players were up 3 to 1 in a best-of-seven series against the Warriors last year and lost. Many tie the loss to Durant’s playing, saying he wasn’t aggressive enough; instead of closing out the Warriors, he tried to go 3-pointer for 3-pointer with one of the best shooting teams in NBA history. Then instead of working hard in the off-season to fight again, he decided to side with his defeaters. It’s bad enough that he lost, but a player of his stature signing with a team he could’ve beaten just looked pathetic.
Durant’s choice was quickly compared to LeBron’s decision to sign with Miami in 2010. People trashed James, who was and is still considered by many to be the best player in the world. James' decision was based on Cleveland’s inability to get other big-name players to join the franchise. Year in and year out, LeBron would lead the Cavs, otherwise full of second-tier players, to the conference and NBA finals, only to lose to teams with more star power like the Boston Celtics, which was stacked with greats like Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. An agitated James linked with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to start their own mini-dynasty. They went on to make four NBA finals appearances and won two championships.
KD had been a tough critic of the super team movement. He once tweeted, “Now everybody wanna play for the Heat and the Lakers? Let’s go back to being competitive and going at these people!” But now he’s doing the same thing he railed against, only worse. James went to the Heat, a team that wasn’t a Cavs rival and that had a modest 47 wins first, unlike KD, who joined a team that was coming off of a historic 73-win season. Adding Durant only made the Warriors a legitimate All-Star team.
I’ve been watching the finals, and night after night KD has been amazing — destroying the Cavs, hitting big shots, looking assassin-ish like Kobe. But how real is his performance? His team is loaded with the league's best, so he can take all the breaks he wants. His fellow All-Stars can do the same, which allows KD to basically show up on the biggest stage in basketball and perform without any real pressure.
Michael Jordan could not take breaks. LeBron has taken teams full of players we never heard of to the finals and has always outperformed everyone. Kobe spent his entire career sniffing out the pressure. It fueled his journey because it's the pressure that defines greatness.
I don’t think Durant's narrative compares. Joining the best team as a superstar doesn’t make you the greatest player in the world.
I do love KD’s game, and I think that he's one of best. But I’m not sure how this victory will affect his legacy and he doesn’t rank among the greats. So I ask, how valid will KD’s ring be?