"The best player in the world." An elusive title to have to your name, and with sound reasoning. In a world filled with so much talent and skill, being the cream of the crop requires elite ability, talent, and will. In today's NBA, you can argue who the best is between the likes of Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Dončić, or someone else, as we have plenty of superstars dominating the game. But ten years ago, the picture was a lot more clear.
LeBron was in his prime and ready to add a couple of rings to his resume with the Miami Heat "Big 3" as the consensus #1 player in the game. As faith would have it, his first championship would come against the #2 guy in the game at the time, Kevin Durant. KD and the young Thunder were scary good for their age and an apparent legacy in the making. A 23-year old Durant and Westbrook, supported by a 22-year old Harden, suprised everyone by making it to the Finals so early, only to lose in five games.
No one faulted them for it, as they paid the price of inexperience. Still, everybody expected the Thunder to be there for years to come, but as destiny would go in another direction, that was the last time these three played together, and the Thunder saw the Finals. OKC had a chance to beat the Heat, especially after taking Game 1 and having home-court advantage, but the lights were just too bright for the team at the time. A justified reason to lose, but the competitor in Durant wasn't satisfied, as he wanted the championship that year.
"Yeah, because we had just lost in the Finals, and I felt like we was right there every game. And people was like, 'Man, good job. Yall did great. You guys are young, Y'all will be right back.' And I was like,' I don't care about that.' I wanted to win that series, and I wanted to win a championship. And that's where that came from. "
Kevin Durant, "Chips"
Everyone looked at Durant at that time as the tall, skinny and nice guy, not really capable of getting his hands dirty to win it all. Something that is required to succeed in this league. No matter how talented and unstoppable he was, that was the one glaring thing missing in KD's game. So everyone would by default put him in second place behind LeBron. Something that followed Durant through his basketball upbringing. KD was the second best-ranked player in the nation and the 2nd overall draft pick in the 2007 Draft.
So after losing to LeBron and getting the label of the #2 guy again, Durant had enough, as he decided to voice his opinion loud and clear. A Sports Illustrated cover and article revolving around KD being tired of being second came out as the NBA world took notice. Durant would start to show more fire and nastiness in his game - the change was evident.
"I was just-people wanted me to accept being second so much. That was never my mentality ever, always to win the game. And you know, I appreciated people, like respecting my game. But I was like, I wanted more for myself. And at that point, that's how I was feeling."
Kevin Durant, "Chips"
That would fuel him to win the MVP award in 2014 and eventually decide to make the courageous and bold move of joining the Golden State Warriors. A move that changed the complete narrative of KD being a nice guy to the villain of the NBA. His personal reputation got destroyed, but KD finally became a champion, which was all that mattered in his eyes.
Since then, he has become very vocal and direct in his interactions with the media and the fans, completely erasing the image of the nice guy from his early OKC days. But at least he was never again the default #2 guy but by many the best player in the world. After coming back this season with the Brooklyn Nets and showing he still has it, many fans are anticipating how KD will add to his legacy in the next few years. If he continues his form from the Playoffs, we could see Durant finally being that consensus #1 guy in the NBA.