From NBA championships to scoring titles to gold medals, Kevin Durant has nothing left to prove on a basketball court. But he still gave up a month of his offseason to commit to Team USA and a trip to Tokyo for the Olympics. Why?
Both Durant and Team USA coach Gregg Popovich said don’t overthink the question. It’s simple. The Nets superstar just loves to hoop.
And to win.
“I committed to USA Basketball when I was coming out of college,” Durant said. “And every chance that I can get that I’m healthy and my mind is in the right place to play basketball, I’m going to go out there and play.
“Finished the year off healthy, the regular season and the playoffs, so I felt it’d be cool to get a kickstart on next season by getting in shape a little earlier in the summer with Team USA. [I’m] fortunate to be around the best players in the world and around the best athletes as well, so I just wanted to take in the experience.”
Durant will be going for his third Olympic gold medal. That would give him one more than LeBron James, the star against whom he is always measured. And he’s just 25 points shy of Carmelo Anthony’s all-time U.S. Olympic scoring mark — or by Durant’s standards, one big game.
But Durant always vehemently denies thinking in terms of legacy. He stated he wants to be around other top players and wants to be coached by Popovich, the same way he always dreamed of playing for Mike Krzyzewski.
“As far as those specific goals or rewards or beating someone, I really have no idea what’s in his head. But I am totally convinced the reason he’s doing this is because he loves to play,” Popovich said. “He loves the competition. He loves the camaraderie with the guys. He wants to win. And when he’s playing basketball, he’s happy. That’s the bottom line common denominator why he’s here.
“I might add that it’s amazing, and fortunate for us that he does feel that way, because he’s a heck of a player. To make that sacrifice again, what he’s done in the past, I think is pretty laudable. And he deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Durant got it, not just from Popovich — who jokingly said he would’ve cried and begged to convince the Nets star to play — but also from Doug Collins.
Popovich brought Collins — who played a big role in the controversial United States loss to the USSR at the 1972 Munich Olympics — to speak to the players, hoping to impress upon them the importance of the Olympic gold and of taking every foe seriously. But Collins also took note of Durant’s sacrifice to be there.
“He was especially effusive about Kevin Durant, because even though I’ve already said about his love of the game and the sacrifice he’s making, he’s also been injured quite a bit in the last couple of years,” Popovich said. “He’s gone through a tough time, and he’s still here. And Doug really made sure that that was appreciated by everyone in the basketball world.”
From the ruptured Achilles, to COVID-19, to a hamstring injury, to a thigh injury and to a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Bucks, Durant has gone through a tough 24 months.
Nevertheless, he never seriously considered skipping out on Tokyo. He certainly was not going to miss the first Olympics since the passing of Kobe Bryant, whose memory Durant said is driving the many Team USA stars who looked up to him.
“It’s gonna be important for a multitude of reasons, and that’s definitely one of those,” Durant said. “We got so many ‘Kobe disciples’ in here who learned from him for so long, had relationships with him. You want to go out there and want to win the gold just like he did. So looking forward to it.
“Guys that had close relationships will understand how he’d approach every single day, especially with Team USA. He really took pride in being a part of this group, and a part of his team. We all feed off that type of energy, and Kobe always brought that. So he’s always big to every one of us here. We miss him, we miss him dearly, because he would be here supporting us.”