One of the biggest stories of this year’s NBA Finals has been the injury status of Kevin Durant. The two-time NBA Finals MVP had been sitting out since Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, but media and fans alike were expecting him back at some point in the NBA Finals.
In fact, there were some wondering why he wasn’t back sooner, considering he was shown on television walking around near the locker room at some games, and his team was being handled by the Toronto Raptors on the court.
But word was Durant didn’t want to come back until he was ready to go fully, so he held off until Game 5, with Golden State facing a 3-1 deficit in the Finals.
Unfortunately, things went from good — Durant moved around well and hit a trio of three-pointers in the first quarter, giving the Warriors a boost — to ugly quickly. In the second quarter, Durant tried to drive with the ball but pulled up, letting the ball go and limping away, then going to the ground.
It was eventually discovered that Durant had ruptured his Achilles, requiring surgery that was performed on Wednesday.
Almost immediately, some reacted with blame for the Golden State Warriors for having him out there. Yes, I know this is the way of the world now on social media and elsewhere, that we can all be Monday Morning Quarterbacks and know-it-alls after the fact.
But some of the criticism was that the Warriors forced Durant to come back. Almost like he did it against his will.
Anyone who saw Durant’s pregame dance outside the locker room prior to Game 5 should know that he was excited to get back out on the court. He said as much after the fact as well, that he was where he was supposed to be and that the injury just happened.
But it doesn’t stop people from wanting to play the blame game, to hold someone accountable for an injury that most people would not have anticipated. I’m going to guess that if the Warriors were told they could get Durant for a quarter of a game in the Finals, but he would suffer a ruptured Achilles, they wouldn’t have had him anywhere near the court.
Listen to what is considering sportscasting now — ESPN and Fox’s constant stream of talking heads screaming at each other — and you’d almost be convinced otherwise.
History Of Playing Hurt
Sports is full of stories of athletes playing hurt and overcoming the odds, and the NBA is no different.
In fact, it’s celebrated. Look at ABC’s intro to every Finals game this year, and you’ll see a shot of an injured Willis Reed walking to the court to play in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals for the Knicks. Oh, by the way, he was shot up with pain killers and played only a few minutes, limping around the court, but him overcoming an injury has become legendary.
Right next to that is Paul Pierce coming back out onto the court after being hurt in the 2008 NBA Finals. Jordan’s flu game. Isiah’s ankle. Heck, even Kevon Looney going from out for the rest of the postseason to playing in Game 5.
Yet because the worst-case scenario occurred with Durant, putting him potentially out for a year with a catastrophic injury, all of a sudden, everyone wants to say he shouldn’t have been playing.
Part Of A Team
Problem is, Durant wanted to play. He wanted to help his teammates and his team. The reaction of his teammates — particularly Andre Iguodala and Stephen Curry, who both walked him back to the locker room after the injury — shows you how much Durant means to them, and it runs both ways.
Durant is a part of the Golden State Warriors — no matter how much talk you have heard about his impending free agency. He wants to be a part of the team by playing.
There were no Golden State executives threatening him, forcing him to be out on the court when he got hurt. He wanted to be there. And honestly, if Durant hadn’t suffered another injury and instead led Golden State to a come-from-behind seven-game victory in the NBA Finals, would anyone be raising these concerns? Absolutely not.