The Toronto Raptors are World Champions! And while congratulations are due to Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and that incredible group of athletes, a subtle narrative looms under the black, purple, and red confetti…
There was a championship on the line. What would you have done?
Critique of Kevin Durant’s return and subsequent injury is a continuing narrative.
The Raptors had taken a 3-1 series lead and Golden State’s 2018 Finals MVP, Kevin Durant, was on the bench with an injured calf. With an historic and elusive “3-peat” on the line, down in the series, and after the team doctors cleared him to play, he played.
He came back and battled. And he ruptured his Achilles tendon.
In the wake of his injury, media pundits have slammed the decision, indicating negligence on behalf of team doctors, who allegedly work in the best interest of the team and not the athletes.
If Kevin Durant could go back in time, he would have made the same decision. “I wanted to be out there that night because that’s what I do… I’m a hooper.”
This is the same Kevin Durant who has renegotiated his contacts to allow the Warriors space to re-sign Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, and DeMarcus Cousins. Those contracts went in the team’s direction to the tune of $15 million – he did this for the good of the team. That’s what he does.
After all of the media scrutiny Durant has been under, now seems like an important moment to note that this guy is a talented, selfless superstar.
And in that moment, with a championship in the balance, Durant made the same decision that many in his position would have. If you’re a player, you play.
When Kawhi Leonard took time on his return last year, he was blasted by many, including San Antonio fan and Fox Sports analyst, Skip Bayless: “Kawhi Leonard quit on the Spurs, crumbled under the pressure to live up to MVP and Face of Franchise expectations.”
KD didn’t quit.
We should not judge Durant or the Warriors. He did what any athlete who truly cares would do – he gave the best he had for the sake of his team.
If it is not enough to imagine what he wanted (a championship for his team), then perhaps we should consider what he did not want… depression and other struggles with mental health.
Dr. Aloiya Earl, Sports Medicine Fellow Physician at the University of Alabama, notes that being an athlete is engrained in the identify of folks like Kevin Durant, and “when [their career] is put on hold and they’re not able to meet the expectations they’ve placed on themselves, and when they’re not able to serve their team in the way they want to, mental health can be negatively affected.” She acknowledges that what Durant was likely feeling was normal, as “feelings of anger or depression are tremendously common.”
Instead of taking Durant’s mental health into consideration, the media pounced. It is well-documented that Durant is active in social media and seems to take things really personally. So instead of following the suggestions of experts like Dr. Earl which include “optimizing psychological well-being during injured off-time,” Durant was feeling the squeeze.
Klay Thompson landed awkwardly last night and added another tragic injury to the Warrior’s playoff run. He tore his ACL. Following the injury, he leaned over to head Coach Steve Kerr and said, “just a two minute rest, I’ll be ready.” He was mistaken, but his heart and spirit were in the right place. He’s a hooper.
There was no decision in Klay’s case. There was no preexisting condition. These things happen.
KD had a strained calf and a doctor’s clearance. Michael Jordan would have played. Isn’t that the standard Chris Carter? Colin Cowherd?
The media needs to sit back, put their feet up, maybe grab a bag of ice – Durant, the team doctors, and Steve Kerr followed protocol and though it ended tragically, the logic of their decision was sound. Media pundits stoking the flames are the only parties who should be considered culpable in this conversation. They complicate the narrative.
“I’m proud that I gave it all I physically could, and I’m proud my brothers got the W,” Durant said on Instagram after his surgery. That’s what we ask of our athletes.
KD, and now Klay, here’s to a speedy return.