Kevin Durant shines

NBA star Kevin Durant is the pride of Prince George’s County, Maryland. More than that, he’ll likely end up surpassing the legendary Elgin Baylor as the greatest basketball player the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area has ever produced.

Normally, I root wholeheartedly for athletes from the D.C. area, and I did so for Durant until three things happened: (1) Durant refused even to consider coming home to play for the Washington Wizards when he became a free agent, (2) he chose to play for a team that had just won the NBA championship without him, and (3) he seemed increasingly surly when interviewed about these and other matters.

But now that Durant has led the U.S. to gold at the Olympics, I’m back on board the bandwagon.

Durant was the only one of his generation of American superstars who agreed to play for Team USA. Lebron James, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, and Anthony Davis all elected to skip the Olympics.

For this, they should not be blamed. Each had recently finished a grueling NBA season following the late completion of the previous one in a bubble (due to the pandemic). There were valid health concerns about going to Japan. Moreover, the veteran stars had reason to feel confident that the generation of talented players just behind them — stars like Devin Booker, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, and Jayson Tatum — could bring home another gold medal.

But Durant elected to go to Japan and seek his third gold medal. He did so even though his NBA season was more grueling than those of James, Curry, Davis, and emerging star Zion Williamson, who also opted out.

Durant and his Brooklyn Nets were still playing when the above-mentioned four were at home, their teams having been eliminated from championship contention. Durant was last seen on an NBA court scoring 48 points in an overtime game-seven loss to eventual champions Milwaukee — one of the most amazing game-seven performances I’ve ever seen in the NBA.

As it turned out, the U.S. couldn’t have won the gold medal without Durant. In the championship game against a very strong team from France, Durant carried the U.S. Lillard and Booker both had off nights. Tatum scored well, but could not have led the team to victory. (Unfortunately, Beal never made it to Japan due to the coronavirus.)

Other than Tatum, Durant was the only real U.S. scoring threat for most of the game. And since the Americans couldn’t contain France’s center, Rudy Gobert (another NBA star), Team USA could not have defeated France without Durant’s contribution.

In the end, that contribution amounted to 29 points on 9-18 shooting from the field and 8-9 shooting from the foul line (including the two free throws that iced the game). Only Tatum, with 19 points, produced even half of Durant’s scoring output.

Durant also chipped in with six rebounds, second only to Tatum’s seven on the U.S. side. And he made several key defensive plays, while managing avoid foul trouble (five fouls means disqualification in international play).

In addition to Durant, I want to credit Booker, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday for their participation. All three played in the NBA finals, which ended on July 20. They arrived in Tokyo just as the U.S. was about to play its first game (a loss to France).

Booker was wretched in the final, but excelled when the U.S. routed Australia in the semi-final. Middleton scored four points with a rebound, an assist, and some good defense in only 11 minutes against France.

Holliday was a key contributor in the victory over France. He didn’t shoot well, but managed 11 points and five rebounds, while excelling on defense. Outside of Durant and Tatum, he was Team USA’s best performer in the final game.

But the final really belonged to Durant, and not for the first time. In his two previous gold medal games, he scored 30 points. This time, he scored 29.

After the game, Durant said:

[T]o build the camaraderie with the most talented guys in the world, to play for your country, to represent my little section of the United States, my family — it’s special to come together for a common cause.

Count Kevin Durant among the heroes of this non-woke Olympics.

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