Kevin Durant’s career altering injury is an NBA Finals showcase of Murphy’s Law, when everything that could go wrong inevitably does.
When is it okay for an athlete to say ‘No’ to the fans, the media, and even his own team? We hold injured players guilty until proven innocent in this society. Their own word considered faulty eyewitness testimony compared to a team doctor’s bulletproof bill of health. To put it simply, we need proof ‘they’re not faking.’ It’s why Kevin Durant ended up sacrificing his achilles to earn his NBA Purple Heart. Seemingly, the only path available for a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict in the public arena of sports injuries.
Picture escaping your fate with a slap on the wrist just weeks before. You run up the court like thousands of times prior, when you feel the sensation of someone kicking your foot. Confused, you turn around but there’s no one there. Not a soul was close-by on the hardwood. The truth suddenly dawns on you, there was no kick, your health is in imminent jeopardy. The body sending a warning shot with a quick peek into the future. You manage to barely evade a life-changing trajectory. Yet, like Final Destination, fate has a way of chasing you down to get its way.
Just a month passes but the pressure to return builds from all sides, trapping the player in a spider web. The media speculates the team doesn’t need you when they win… But does everything but all out demand you should come back when they lose. ‘Hint, hint.’ A cloud hovers over your head, questioning your very passion because of lingering free agency. Despite a three-peat being every NBA player’s Holy Grail. A dream since childhood on the cusp of becoming reality in adulthood. Every day a new article sees ink questioning your drive, the seriousness of your injury, and if you’re needed… All enough to drive anyone practically to madness, desperately longing to prove the naysayers wrong.
The childhood dream is on the verge of elimination, just one game away. You’re more or less pressured into a workout and what once was easy feels as grueling as ever. The signs to stay away are shoved aside for the time being, hoping to stay the course. There you are, NBA Finals Game 5 against the Toronto Raptors, leading the Golden State Warriors with a quick 11 points… When reality pulls your leg from the heavens to drag you back to its darkest abyss.
You grab at your achilles trying to process what has happened. Attempting a negotiation between the mind and the body to not have this ending. But the credits have already started rolling, it’s futile. No reset button to life, no reboots and no timeouts. You make one wrong decision and there’s no escape or reversal. In your Purple Heart you gain the tears of your GM and the inadvertent respect of your colleagues for going out there. But was it worth it?
When before the only ‘what if’ was the result of the NBA Finals, now you’ll inevitably wonder ‘what if’ for the rest of your career. A curse post-return. Even if you come back good as new… The human mind cannot help but wonder if it would be better had the achilles injury never happened. A possible NBA Championship ring simultaneously doubling as a ‘cautionary tale‘ for other athletes. A spokesperson position you never asked for. You’re left pondering what you’ll be like and how the moment your achilles ruptured will change your life.
Yet, had you won Finals MVP and three-peated, it would be the highest of highs instead of bittersweet regardless of outcome. Hindsight is indeed 20/20.
6.1 seconds on the clock. Overtime. Kobe Bryant methodically advances a dribble up-court with the cavalry in front of him, reading his every move. Despite knowing the future, Raja Bell and Boris Diaw are unable to stop it from arriving.
Rewind in time to a jump ball tipped by the Lakers’ Luke Walton, rescued valiantly by Kobe Bryant from landing out of bounds. Bryant cradles Spalding’s finest with his left hand, slinks back to his right, pacing himself down the court in Swiss watch-like precision. There is no time to plan and reflect, only act. Every dribble counting more than the last one. Zero margin of error.
Raja Bell rushes to fortify the defenses against this lone adversary, heart rate at full throttle. But Bryant is already past the drawbridge and the moat, the castle has been breached! Backup arrives as Boris Diaw senses impending doom from the fiery catapult about to launch. Doomsday.
Nash’s front lines attempt to smother this renegade uprising to no avail. 1.7 seconds on the clock, Bryant rises above the resistance and takes a shot. The last chance leaves Bryant’s finger tips… Without a hint of hesitation. Breathes are held by both figurative armies as fate floats though the air. Time slows to a crawl momentarily, then returns at mach speed. The jumper pierces through the net and an earthquake-like tremor is felt at the epicenter that is Staples Center. Los Angeles celebrates the spectacle of a victory instantaneously! Roars of ‘MVP’ burst across the seams of their coliseum.
General Phil Jackson remains stoic, waiting for final confirmation the shot counted before time went out. Yet, the Phoenix Suns have already left the court, deflated, morally and physically. The shot they saw coming but could do nothing about. Steve Nash leaves immediately, as the rest of squad follows suit sans Tim Thomas. Who remains bewildered in disbelief at what has transpired. A tipped off ambush that still results in losing ground.
Eventually Nash’s well-trained Suns would miraculously steal victory from the Mamba’s Viper, sending a year of Bryant’s prime back to the dungeon. Tiring out the will of the Lakers fight, forcing them to push a boulder uphill until they could push no longer. Rolling them back to the darkness of winning battles but losing the war in despair…
Yet, the vulture looming was still three games away from feeding. That night, Kobe Bryant’s Lakers owned a 3-1 lead as the underdog #7th seed against the disciplined #2 seed. A whole generation of Laker caught in a drunk haze of triumph, dreaming of the possibilities.
Check out more NBA coverage in the NBA Category section! Features include the question, Is an NBA Championship ring worth an Achilles? A look back at Kevin Durant taking the court for the Golden State Warriors at the 2019 NBA Finals.