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Kevin Durant Game Winning Reaction: The First and the Last

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One of the delightful things about watching Kevin Durant's game winner over and over again is that you pick up on all the little subtleties of the moment. You see the slender shoulders and the still head of the man, barely moving in acknowledgement of the moment that is unfolding. When the moment finally arrives, he surges to the ball knowing that there are but mere seconds to make a decision. As he catches the ball, he pivots toward the rim, raising the ball over his head and avoiding the defender's outstretched arm. As Durant rises up, he squares his shoulders and in a motion almost like a shot-put, he flings the ball at the front of the rim. The ball hangs on its flat trajectory; if the ball has a chance, it has to be perfectly on line. Thousands of fans, visible in the background, hold their breath. The shot, being willed in both directions by hopeful forces, makes a cosmic decision - it rattles into the rim. And then...

Pandemonium. Kevin Durant stalks toward the middle of the court, defiantly shouting at his surroundings, pounding his chest. As he screams, his body language is overt and reminds us of something like Denzel Washington's standoff in "Training Day." His teammates swarm him, smacking him on the back, pushing him in congratulatory bravado. The fans surrounding his vissage in the background are silent, many of them holding their heads in their hands in instant depression. 



We have to go back to Durant's Supersonics days to see the last time he was able to hit a game winner. Compare his body language in that play to the one he just made.


Obviously the setting is different, and so the fan reaction is the exact opposite. When the ball falls through the net, the OKC home crowd erupts as a single tidal wave in response. It is one of the best visuals in sports.

What I like though are the small things about the moment. Unlike in the first clip, Durant doesn't hit the shot and then scream, or run to the center of the court, or thump his chest. Instead he is completely serene. It isn't even a posture of "I'm the coolest man in the gym."  It is a posture of, well, I'll let Kevin use his own words: "I'm me, I do me, and I chill." I think that's it. He walks as a man who knows he can do things like this.

But then, he smiles. You only get a glimpse of it for a half a second, but it is there radiating in elation. I watch that smile, and I wonder what he is thinking. Is he simply happy that his game winner finally went in, after big misses earlier this season? Is he happy he didn't let his teammates down? Is he basking in the moment? It's just a smile, simple and sweet. And yet it says so much without telling us anything at all.


As a matter of comparison, here is the first big game winner by another guy:


I remember this shot. I watched it live. And I remember every aspect of Michael Jordan's reaction. It is similar to Durant's - anger, jubilation, defiance, and pride, all wrapped up in a burst of emotion.

Now, watch his last true big moment buzzer-beater.

This shot came in a championship game. The stakes were considerably higher, the shot, more meaningful because the Bulls went on to win the series. Even so, all of the outward emotion in the first shot is gone. This time, Jordan turns, pumps his fist, and walks away. 

It is also interesting to see the two men's body language - Jordan's is still of fierce defiance, while Durant's is of joy. You learn much about a man in the smallest moments of his disposition. It is insight into their souls. The Thunder faithful should be (and I believe are) glad to see nobility in Durant's character.