We’ve all done it. We’ve all done it and gotten away with it. We’ve all done it and suffered the consequences.
Tuesday night in the potentially climactic game of the NBA Finals Kevin Durant, the seven-foot shooting star of the Golden State Warriors, played ball after sitting out 32 days with a calf injury. After 10 minutes of playing beautiful and surprisingly fluid basketball his leg buckled on a seemingly inconsequential move, and Durant crashed, all 84”, to the floor in Toronto.
Some ignorant Raptors fans started cheering, but to their credit, Toronto players immediately shushed them to silence. They knew what likely happened to Durant, and they took no joy from it. Durant had done what they had probably all done at one time or another. He wanted to show his greatness. He desperately wanted to show the world his toughness. He wanted to be a hero to the world, to his own teammates, and perhaps most of all to himself. And he paid the price.
In a fascinating coincidence that sports is so great at highlighting, he was opposing the magnificent Kawhi Leonard who was playing the most incredible basketball of his very nice, but not LeBron James- or Michael Jordan-like, career. Leonard had become a superstar in the playoffs, yet last year he languished at San Antonio, sitting out the season for physical and personal reasons. He would be a free agent after the 2018-19 season, and he did not want to spend it with the Spurs.
Kevin Durant was also in his prelude to free-agency season at 30 years old. He was on a five-time NBA championship team in the GoldenState Warriors. Playing with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Drayman Green, Durant made Golden State seemingly unbeatable. For his choosing to sign there in 2016 Durant was criticized for taking the pebble-free path to titles.
But in sports, like real life, stuff happens. Earlier in the playoffs DeMarcus Cousins, a former All Star, had hurt his quad. This had put him out of the playoffs until the middle of the Finals, and he was a poor imitation of the outstanding player he had once been.
Klay Thompson hurt his hamstring and sat out Game Three. With Golden State down 3-1 in a seven-game series going into Game 5 in Toronto, Durant was under huge social pressure to play and seemingly faced a moment of personal self-examination leading up to game time. The doctors had cleared him to play. His teammates certainly let him know that they needed him. But only Kevin Durant really knew how his leg felt. Money was also an issue for him. He would be a free agent after the season. He was already rich, but soon he could be mega-rich.
He was a defending NBA champion, but the team would always be seen as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s Golden State Warriors. Unless – somehow – Kevin Durant keyed the team to three straight wins to steal back the NBA Championship for the Bay Area. Then Kevin Durant, incredible all-around, 7-foot player that he was, would finally also be heroic.
Durant played. And he played really well for 10 minutes. Then his personal disaster struck. His Achilles apparently popped—and he seemed to know it. A ruptured Achilles tendon injury doesn’t hurt as bad as it sounds. (I’ve done it twice.) But it messes up your walking, much less your jumping, immediately. It wrecks your athletic career for 10 months and, at almost 32-years-old before Durant can fully compete, it will dramatically affect his athletic future. The career of a basketball prodigy, #2 draft pick in 2007, phenomenal scorer, great teammate, could be all but over. Poof.
By all accounts Durant was emotionally crushed. The Warriors’ General Manager was literally in tears when he tried to conduct a press conference after the game that the Warriors won by one point.
Steve Kerr, Golden State’s coach, chose not to talk about it.
Before writing this piece I thought about Kerr’s life. He knows heroism and its price.
Steve Kerr spent a lot of his formative years in Beirut, Lebanon, where his father, Malcom Kerr, was teaching at the American University of Beirut. Americans were always endangered there. Two hundred and eighty-two American soldiers had died in one attack in Beirut. Steve left as a teenager, went home to comfortable Los Angeles, and played guard at the University of Arizona, going to the NCAA Final Four in 1988. His father went back to Beirut to become University President in 1982. He was trying to bridge the gap between Christians and Muslims — to be a hero in his own way. But 18 months after arriving, at the age of 52, he was gunned down by terrorists in the hall of the University.
Question: Have you ever gone out there when you knew you shouldn’t have? What happened?