"My next year is now." - William Gates
This is about Kevin Durant.
The first time I thought about death thorough enough to have a breakdown I was probably around 11. The panic was spurred by the "Make Your Own Time Capsule" book I had been reading. It took me a few minutes, but all of a sudden I was hit with eternity. When the time capsule would finally be opened, however many hundred years in the future, I would not be. There, then not there. One moment, next moment.
Things change for good, quickly. And how! I've attended enough funerals to know how these things work. The floor can drop out any second, and it relishes in doing so.
Yeah, I know. This is a Website about the NBA, so here you go...
My list of one-time favorite players reads like a graveyard.
First it was Penny Hardaway.
Then Grant Hill.
Then Tracy McGrady.
Then Gilbert Arenas.
Grant Hill's ankle.
Then there's Gil. Before the '08-'09 regular season, Gil launched an outrageously aggressive campaign to woo the hearts of the Internet generation. He called it "The Takeover" and gave himself a thousand nicknames. Hibachi. The Black President. He beat DeShawn Stevenson in a three-point contest with one hand, then released video of the shootout. C'mon. None of us following this had any choice: We loved him.
Then his knees and judgment betrayed him, and that wonderful man disappeared, like all of those other men disappeared. These four men were never able to deliver fully on the promises made by their blistering entrances into the league. (I know Grant Hill has had a full career, but not the career we were promised by those first few years of brilliance in Detroit.)
I guess what I'm getting at is that this has not often ended well for me and the players I've chosen to hitch my apple wagon to; and I know there are thousands of twentysomething NBA junkies just like me who have watched hero after hero slain by injuries or hubris or gravity or dangerously misguided practical jokes. Every NBA players dies, but some before they're even dead.
But this is about Kevin Durant.
When I realized that Durant was beginning to make similar promises with his play, the nervousness kicked in. He was forcing me to recall these players, not because of the gargantuan impacts of their arrivals, but rather because of the cavernous voids left by their disappearances. I panicked. I've been here before.
Yes, I'm a jaded sports fan, anticipating death before the blood test results have even been sent to the lab. I'm steeling myself for failure/disappearance on his part, even though it's tough to pinpoint exactly where his hulking ship might ever spring a leak.
Sports isn't life and death. Hearing Chuck Klosterman scoff at Bill Simmons that one time when Simmons suggested as much on his podcast was refreshing. But while sports doesn't (often) employ the literal sense of the phrase, the familiar cycles of birth and decay are always present. And more often than is comfortable, decay arrives way too soon.
Injuries are always lurking nearby, and in some nondescript second quarter of a December game against the Kings, Kevin Durant may very well hurt his knee and never quite recover. This could happen next season, or the season after that, or never, or some other time. I'm not trying to bum everyone out here, but I just want to make sure we're all facing forward. I know we like to pretend for the time-being that Derrick Rose is a full human being, but c'mon. We just don't know. Hopefully his name won't be mentioned alongside Penny, et al. But that's sincerely possible.
My point in all of this is that Durant is on the precipice of having his name emblazoned on an NBA barstool for good. At 23, he may be facing his best chance at a ring that he'll ever see. Pundits are all talking about this Thunder run as just the beginning; they snatched the torch from the Spurs before San Antonio was ready to let it go, and this Finals trip is the first stop on a seven-year barnstorming tour that will see the Thunder control the league. I would love for this to be true. But then again, maybe that's not the case. Maybe this year will end up being the anomaly, the season we constantly refer to any time a washed up, post-surgery Durant is passed on to another team, in another city, with the hope that, hey, maybe he can tap in to some of that old 2012 juice.
Durant? He knows this. He understands that longevity is not guaranteed. He's one of those twentysomething basketball junkies I spoke of earlier. He understands all that's come before him. It wouldn't be surprising to hear that he's been organizing team screenings of Hoop Dreams for years now, just so his guys learn to appreciate the hunger they all have. He knows he needs to win now, because now may be all he gets.
Despite my probably irrational worries, though, Durant seems like the one who could actually deliver as savior. He's spent his whole career carefully placing each concrete brick without glancing over his shoulder to make sure people are watching. It really does seem like he has the lightning bolt scar or whatever other fantasy novel demarcation you want to evoke.
But then again, eight years ago we all thought we had that guy in LeBron. And we still might. But right now we need KD.