It was the shot that essentially sealed the NBA Finals for the Warriors, and even at the time, it seemed to mean more than that. When Kevin Durant hit a three-pointer with under a minute left in Game 3, giving Golden State a lead and, soon enough, a 3-0 stranglehold on the series, it was only fitting that he shot it over the outstretched arm of LeBron James.
James had been the NBA’s dominant figure, making annual trips to the Finals, while Durant, for all his gifts, had been toiling away relatively quietly in Oklahoma City, with just one losing appearance in the championship round — to the James-led Heat. But after a much-publicized — not to mention widely criticized — defection to the Warriors in free agency, Durant submitted a dominant performance on basketball’s biggest stage, winning Finals MVP honors and authoring its most indelible 2017 moment.
As it turns out, Durant relishes that shot as much as anyone. In fact, he thinks his game-winner symbolized a passing-of-the-torch moment, from James to himself.
“That was the best moment I ever had,” Durant said, in comments made this summer and published Thursday by GQ. “I made the game-winning shot in the Finals against my f—— idol. Somebody that I really, really, really followed since I was a ninth-grade high schooler.
“I felt like he was passing the torch to me.”
James likely sees the moment differently, but if he wanted to complain that Durant stacked the deck in his favor by joining the already mighty Warriors, Durant could point out that he was simply emulating the former Miami player’s example. In fact, Durant did just that in the GQ story.
James, he said, “gave me the courage” to not only risk fans’ wrath by switching teams in search of a better situation, but to also risk injury by signing short-term deals that provide leverage. “Now, I could have did a better job studying how he approached everything after that,” Durant said of James. “But I did it my way. And the next guy is gonna look at me as an example.”
“He’s four years older than me, so he’s still the big homie. But I’m on the same level as a basketball player,” Durant added. “Off the court, I can learn a thing from you. But as a basketball player, I feel like it’s 1A, 1B. And that’s an accomplishment for me.”
In terms of career accomplishments, Durant may not get the three NBA MVP awards he needs to match James’s total of four, given that he likely won’t need to put up huge regular season numbers on the talent-laden Warriors. However, a much more desirable goal — equaling, if not bettering, James’s three championships and Finals MVP honors — appears well within reach.
Of the shot that went such a long way toward getting him his first ring, Durant told GQ, “That feeling was amazing.” He added at the time that he would “put that memory to the side” when it was time to gear up for this season, but he looks to be in great shape to make more such memories in the Finals, and grab more of that torch away from James.
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