Up front, understand that Kevin Durant does not have much use for your conversation about the greatest NBA players who ever lived.
“Being The GOAT isn’t something that moves me,” he once tweeted.
And that’s fine. Durant does not have to participate in any such public discourse. But despite his fame and fortune and towering social-media presence (31 million followers on Twitter and Instagram), Durant does not get to control whether those debates go on without him.
As he prepares for Saturday night’s Game 7 against Milwaukee at Barclays Center, Durant is staring down yet another major legacy opportunity. If he can close out the player he’s described as his favorite to watch (“by far”), two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, with Nets teammates James Harden hobbled and Kyrie Irving inactive, Durant will take another step up the ladder of historical achievement, much like the one he took with his Game 5 masterpiece.
Of course, all positive steps taken by this generation’s superstars are taken in the direction of LeBron Raymone James, presumed to be chasing Michael Jordan for pro basketball’s mythical GOAT title. While James pursues the man many believe is the greatest American athlete ever, he might want to consider the famous quote from Satchel Paige:
“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
That something is a 6-foot-10 someone with a 7-5 wingspan, a crazy-good handle, a lethal jump shot, and a chance — as of Saturday — to win another NBA championship much sooner than later. James has won four titles with three teams. Durant’s mission was to finish this season with three titles for two teams.
LeBron is winning the race, that much is clear. Even if he never matches or surpasses Jordan, six-time champ, in the eyes of the sporting public, he is the favorite to remain the signature juggernaut of the post-Kobe Bryant era.
But Durant, at 32, is four years younger than James, meaning that time is on his side. Assuming he stays healthy, KD can do a lot with that time. Just consider how casually the Greek Freak and others now call Durant the world’s best player … while LeBron is still on the back nine of his prime.
It was assumed Durant would be somewhat diminished after he ruptured his Achilles’ in the 2019 Finals. But after he went for 49 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 assists in 48 Game 5 minutes against Milwaukee, witnesses wondered if KD is even better now than he was while winning two Finals MVPs for Golden State.
“I would say it’s even remarkable there’s a conversation about that,” Nets coach Steve Nash said.
Saturday morning, Brooklyn’s Jeff Green predicted that his teammate would light a new Game 7 fire under such talk.
“He’s going to go out there, he’s going to play his heart out, put us on his back and lead us to the win,” Green said.
Time will tell. Just like time would determine whether Durant had the staying power to someday supplant James as the best of their generation.
“Everybody gets compared to everyone and no one will ever get the GOAT title outright,” KD once tweeted, “especially on social media so does it really matter in the grand scheme?”
It matters to passionate fans like he wouldn’t believe. So here is a quick rundown of my personal GOATS in a handful of sports:
Men’s golf: Tiger Woods. I had Jack Nicklaus slightly ahead of him before Woods launched an improbable comeback from his many back surgeries and ailments to win the 2018 Tour Championship and the 2019 Masters, and to tie Sam Snead atop the all-time victories list. Nicklaus leads in the majors, 18-15, but Woods has him 82-73 in total wins and by all accounts, including Jack’s, was the more dominant force in his prime.
Women’s tennis: Serena Williams. I don’t care that she trails Margaret Court in majors, 24-23. Court was blown out by Bobby Riggs before Billie Jean King evened the score and fueled a movement; Williams would have made Riggs cry for his mommy.
NFL: Tom Brady. He won the most Super Bowls (7) at the most important position. In a ranking of all-time NFL athletes, Brady wouldn’t make the top 5,000. But the GOAT is the greatest player, not the greatest athlete, so it’s Brady over Jim Brown, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.
Men’s tennis: Novak Djokovic. Only sport with a current herd of GOATS, and the toughest call on the board. Djokovic, with 19 majors, is only one behind the record shared by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and has a winning record against both, along with the career record for weeks as the world No. 1.
MLB: Babe Ruth & Willie Mays. Yep, a tie. It’s impossible to compare segregation-era and post-segregation titans, and Ruth and Mays are second to none.
NHL: Wayne Gretzky. Nuff said.