Throughout the entire 2015-16 season, Kevin Durant's next chapter and Tim Duncan's future were two questions looming in the background. But before either voiced his decision, the answers already seemed obvious. Not only Durant had said he would re-sign with the Thunder a year ago, but during the regular season Duncan had dropped hints that he was nearing the end, but remained productive even at his advanced NBA age of 40. Why would Durant leave everything he had built up? What’s one more year to Duncan since he has been in the league for like 35 years?
Then everything turned around. Durant bolted OKC to go to the Warriors and Duncan called it a career.
Those two things certainly caused ripples in my heart. While I am a Thunder fan, Duncan is one of the first names I knew when I started to follow NBA. The fact that these events happened within days of one anotherjust makes me understand more of the ever-changing nature of the game, thus respecting more of something that symbolizes immortality.
When things fall short of expectations, we tend to raise "what if" questions in retrospect. A promising dynasty that never really cashes in. A supposedly hall-of-fame career derailed by injury. A choice that puts players on the wrong side of the history…Anything that fumbles away the eternity potential and turns out to be a flash in the pan.
Those what-if thought-provoking subjects must really have something so special that people care enough to picture something that never was or would be in the real world. But it’s a different story to the subjects themselves, as people talk about what they could achieve more than what they actually have.
Unfortunate for the Durant-era Thunder, there will be tons of what ifs asked. What if OKC never let go of James Harden? What if Russell Westbrook and KD never got hurt in consecutive seasons? What if Klay Thompson just missed one more shot from deep in the fourth quarter of Game 6? What if the Warriors didn't choke against the Cavaliers and won their 2nd consecutive championship in dominating fashion? And the ultimate what if: what if Durant gave one last shot at the place he had called home for the past nine seasons, even just for one more year?
As for Duncan, however, there are no what ifs needed. The Orlando Magic might have one, after they lost out on Duncan in the summer of 2000, but for Duncan, his heart has remained in San Antonio for 2 decades. While others may ponder fantasy scenarios as a consolation for what has transpired in the real world, Duncan has no need to. Duncan’s scenario is better than any fantasy you can think of, and it's real. (There is only one what if I can think of for Duncan: what if the Olympic-sized pool on his home of the Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands never got destroyed?)
Among players who have spent their entire career with one franchise, only Kobe Bryant’ 20 tops Duncan’19. (John Stockton also spent 19 seasons with the Utah Jazz.) The difference between Bryant and Duncan is that Bryant solidified the legacy of the Los Angeles Lakers while Duncan created the legacy of the Spurs. When it comes to Durant, his significance could have approached Duncan’s had he stayed and finally delivered a championship. Durant is not just a linchpin player of the Thunder, which, like the Spurs, is the only men’s professional sports team of the Big Four Leagues in its city. Durant is the Thunder. He was the Thunder. I just feel sorry that Durant, at the end of his chapter, would never mean to Oklahoma city the same way Duncan to San Antonio and Bryant to Los Angeles. You would think it must mean something when Oklahoma City hosted Bryant’s last game on the road and witnessed Duncan’s swan song.
Don’t get me wrong, I respect Durant’s decision. In fact, I think it is unfair for him to shoulder heavy expectations coming from fans. Let’s not forget that it’s him who have earned the privilege to choose where his next chapter would unfold. Joining the nemesis is sure to cause a stir but what matters most is whether he has given his heart and soul when he wore a Thunder uniform. I think he has and I wish nothing but the best for Durant’s journey in the future.
But the more I come peace with Durant’s decision, the more respect I have for Duncan. I thank you so much for letting me know that basketball eternity does exist and feel what it is like.