Kevin Durant’s Golden State Warriors tenure, controversial as it was successful, has come and gone. The reasons why Durant left for the Brooklyn Nets after two championships and two NBA Finals MVPs will long be speculated, as will the initial reasons that he decided to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for Golden State in the first place.
In both cases, this was likely, more than anything, simply a case of a young man with immense talent and endless options wanting to try something new. But, of course, it’s more fun to talk about how he was jealous of Stephen Curry and sick of playing with Russell Westbrook.
As to the latter, no matter the reason Durant ultimately left OKC, he still had to choose where he was going to go. Boston was in the running. Miami was rumored. But perhaps it was a happenstance encounter with the Warriors’ coaching staff at 2015 All-Star Weekend that started to etch Golden State in Durant’s imagination. From Ethan Strauss’ new book The Victory Machine:
Kerr’s joy, mocked as it was near the end of KD’s time, was essential to Durant’s recruitment. A few Warriors officials believe that KD was drawn to the Warriors in part by All-Star Weekend 2015, when Kerr was coach of the West squad.
It was Kerr at his peak cheerful insouciance, months before a botched back surgery brought constant pain. He was cracking jokes and having fun with the absurd proceedings.
At one point, the Warriors coaches were drinking beer in their locker room when a curious Durant poked his head in.
“So this is what you’re about, huh?” KD said, with a smile. The coaches didn’t deny it.
“I know that the way we went about our business was pretty unique,” Kerr said of the beers. “Very different from OKC and San Antonio, much looser. Players are given a lot more autonomy. I think that might have appealed to Kevin.
“I think after that first year, I think a lot of people watched us play around the league and they liked our style and they saw the joy that was being displayed by our players and our fans and they saw the talent. They saw the way our guys played and they wanted to be a part of it and I think that’s what attracted Kevin.”
That loose atmosphere to which Kerr refers frames not only the Warriors’ locker room culture but the product they put on the floor. This was a team that, at the time, was putting together a championship season, and yet they played free of pressure and for each other. The passing. The shooting. The largely unrestricted freedom that allowed some of the most talented players in the world to reach their highest form of collective artistry.
The beers in the locker room, the smiling and laughing, merely spoke to that basketball opportunity.
Still, Durant has said he wouldn’t have gone to the Warriors had they finished their 73-win season in 2016 with a championship. But they didn’t. When they lost to LeBron James and the Cavaliers in seven games, and an unprecedented salary-cap spike set it, the road to Oakland was paved for Durant, who very well could’ve rewarded the Warriors with three consecutive championships had he not gotten injured, and ultimately torn his Achilles, in the 2019 playoffs.
Still, it was one of the great three-year runs in sports history. And to think, it might’ve all started with a couple of guys chatting and laughing in a locker room over a couple of cold ones.