2019 NBA Finals - Game Five

Source: Gregory Shamus / Getty

This NBA post-season may have been one of the most entertaining in recent years. While ratings dropped by 14 percent heading into the Finals due to the absence of LeBron James, we still witnessed quite a show. Damian Lillard solidified his name on the list of the NBA’s top point guards after years of being under-appreciated. Kawhi Leonard had a historic run to the championship with the Toronto Raptors. Giannis Antetokounmpo put the finishing touches on his first MVP season. Even Kevin Durant earned a new level of respect by putting his body and potentially his career on the line in an attempt to bring home another championship trophy to the Golden State Warriors.

Regardless of the sport, professional athletes are the authors of their own legacy. They craft the stories of their careers right in front of our eyes, leaving highlights behind that fans will reference long after each player retires. If they’re good enough, we watch them bring in millions of dollars in guaranteed contracts and endorsement deals. A person without a competitive bone in their body might say that after you strike it rich, there’s nothing else to achieve. A statement like that couldn’t be further from the truth. On the contrary, once you make enough money to secure the comfort of your family all you have left is legacy. What will the world say about you?

We should heavily consider the importance of legacy in the case of Kevin Durant. Ever since he made his initial decision to play for the Warriors, he’s carried the weight of criticism. A closer look at the scenario reveals just how much his decision was made in the interest of his professional legacy. What does every player, analyst, and fan use to measure the significance of a professional sports career? Championships. The in-game statistics and record setting performances are noteworthy, but people don’t consider you to be a true great without championship rings.

Kevin Durant faced two options: stay with a team upon which he was clashing with his co-star in a struggle over who was the number one scoring option (and play for an organization that had proven for seven years that they couldn’t build a championship team around him), or secure an opportunity to win with the Warriors,  a team already primed for more championships. The one caveat was that in opting to play for the Warriors, he’d effectively sign up to join forces with the one team he couldn’t beat. Either way, critics would have something negative to stay.

Kevin opted to become a champion and two-time finals MVP. As for his original team in OKC? They haven’t been able to break out of the second round of the playoffs since KD’s departure. So who was right? Kevin Durant for adding the necessary notches to his legacy belt, or the critics who would rather have seen him rot in OKC, only for them to criticize him for not being an NBA champion? Fast forward to the 2019 NBA Finals, and we have an injured Kevin Durant. A leg injury took him out in the conference finals, rendering him virtually useless on the court. What appeared to be a calf injury had the possibility to grow into an Achilles injury.

As the NBA Finals progressed, Kevin was the target of even more criticism. Fans, analysts, and — according to reports — even some of his teammates were casting doubt on Kevin’s dedication to winning. One of the greatest players of all time was having his level of dedication questioned, simply because he was sitting out due to a leg injury. The wiser decision would’ve been to stay on the sidelines, but Kevin let the competitor in him take over. He took to the court in Game 6 of the NBA Finals and after what appeared to be the makings of a superhero’s return, Kevin ended up tearing his Achilles. It’s a potentially career-ending injury that will keep him out for the entirety of next season at bare minimum.

Now, as a free agent, Kevin is faced with a huge career decision. He’s a champion now, but he’s never led his own team to the land of victory. Was he a tremendous help to the Warriors? Sure, but it can still be argued that they would’ve won additional championships without him. He’s now in a position to leave the Warriors and sign on with an organization that will be tasked with building a team around him. Truthfully, I don’t see the point in him staying with the Warriors. That job is done, and it’s time to show the world that he can take his own team to the promised land.

The message here is that when it comes to your personal legacy, you’ve got to keep your eye on the bigger picture. Everyone has an opinion, but everyone doesn’t have to live with the results of your career choices. What do you want your story to sound like when it’s shared with generations to come? What moves do you need to make in order to bring that ideal story into fruition. Your legacy rests on your shoulders, so design it the way you see fit.

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