TORONTO — Bob Myers just sat there; his eyes watering, his chest heaving. The seconds ticked by. He was at the interview table, in front of the media, cameras glaring at him, silence awaiting him. When he began to speak, no words came out. His voice just kept catching on emotion.
He was overwrought. He was overwhelmed. He didn’t know where to start or what to say.
Just moments before, the Golden State Warriors dynasty he’d assembled as general manager had just delivered one of its greatest comebacks and greatest victories. The team rallied from down six in this cauldron of Canadian red Monday night, pushing back on the waves of noise and intensity and Kawhi Leonard to steal Game 5, 106-105, and stave off elimination. Game 6, with the Toronto Raptors leading the series 3-2, is Thursday in Oakland.
It should’ve been a night of triumph, proof that Golden State was as much grit and guile as splash and flash. And yet Myers was just torn up, a face full of questions and regret and pain.
“Kevin,” he finally said, delivering the news like an ER doctor saying the patient hadn’t made it.
“It’s an Achilles injury.”
Kevin Durant had tried to play Monday, returning from a lower right leg injury that had sidelined him since Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals. He tried to save the season, save the series, save the Golden State juggernaut that had won three of the past four NBA titles, but appeared unable to handle the relentless Raptors.
He eventually got dragged to his feet, draped his arms over Myers and Andre Iguodala and hobbled to the locker room. Steph Curry jogged behind them, even though he was still in the game. The Raptors crowd, which initially, and unfortunately, cheered the injury, began serenading Durant with “KD” chants and gave him a standing ovation. Soon enough, Durant was leaving the building on crutches.
He looked as broken emotionally as he was physically.
Now here was Myers delivering the news. This wasn’t a strained calf. This wasn’t just a flare-up. This was bad. This was really bad. Maybe a year lost if it’s a torn Achilles. Maybe the best player on the planet losing a season of his prime. Maybe, well, who knows how many maybes there are?
Sometimes players return from injuries like these. Sometimes they are never quite the same.
For Myers, though, this wasn’t just the loss of a chess piece. This was more. He signed Durant three years ago and has felt protective of his star ever since. The signing was assailed by NBA fans, who saw Durant trying to cut the championship line, joining a 73-win team that had just defeated his Oklahoma City Thunder and adding another jewel to a roster no one else in basketball could compete with.
Kevin Durant through the years
Kevin Durant through the years
University of Texas' Kevin Durant watches as a Texas A&M University player takes a free throw during the first half of their NCAA basketball game in Austin, Texas, February 28, 2007. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES)
Kevin Durant of the University of Texas kisses his mother after being selected as the second overall pick by the Seattle Supersonics at the 2007 NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden in New York June 28, 2007. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES)
Seattle Supersonics Kevin Durant reacts during their NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles November 27, 2007. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES)
Seattle Supersonics Kevin Durant (R) fights for a rebound with Los Angeles Lakers Ronny Turiaf during their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles March 21, 2008. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES)
NBA Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant of the Seattle SuperSonics attends a news conference in Taipei July 26, 2008. Durant will visit Taiwan's Asian Youth Basketball national team training camp during his tour of Taiwan. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang (TAIWAN)
Sophomore's Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder holds up his MVP trophy after the Rookie Challenge at the NBA All-Star basketball weekend in Phoenix, Arizona, February 13, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES)
Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant reacts during the second half of Game 2 of their NBA Western Conference playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, April 20, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, (R) hugs teammate Russell Westbrook (0) in celebration late in the fourth quarter against the Lost Angeles Lakers during Game 3 of their NBA Western Conference playoff series in Oklahoma City, April 22, 2010. REUTERS/Bill Waugh (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Kevin Durant of the U.S. looks at Hamed Ehadadi (L) from Iran during their FIBA Basketball World Championship game in Istanbul, September 1, 2010. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (TURKEY - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant sits on the bench in the first half against the Dallas Mavericks during Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference Final basketball playoff in Dallas, Texas May 17, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Sharp (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant dunks the ball against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of their NBA basketball game in Dallas, Texas January 2, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant celebrates in the second half against the San Antonio Spurs during Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference basketball finals in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, May 31, 2012 REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant attends a news conference held for the NBA Finals in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma June 13, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (R) shoots over Miami Heat forward Shane Battier in the second quarter during Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals in Miami, Florida, June 19, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
LeBron James (R) of the Miami Heat speaks as Kevin Durant (L) and Kobe Bryant listen during a news conference for the twelve players selected for the 2012 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team at the Wynn Las Vegas Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada July 7, 2012. REUTERS/Steve Marcus (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL OLYMPICS)
Lebron James (L) and Kevin Durant of the U.S. pose with their gold medals during victory ceremony at the North Greenwich Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 12, 2012. REUTERS/Sergio Perez (BRITAIN - Tags: OLYMPICS SPORT BASKETBALL)
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (C) shoots against Portland Trail Blazers Nicolas Batum (L) of France, and LaMarcus Aldridge (R) in the first half of their NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma March 24, 2013. REUTERS/Bill Waugh (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
May 7, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) is awarded the NBA Most Valuable Player award prior to action against the Los Angeles Clippers in game two of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 25, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrates scoring during the first quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
May 6, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks speaks about how deserving Kevin Durant is of the 2013-2014 MVP award at Thunder Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
NBA basketball player Kevin Durant accepts the Best Male Athlete Award during the inaugural 2014 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Sports awards at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, California July 17, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT SPORT BASKETBALL PROFILE)
Dec 23, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) moves to the basket against Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) during the 2nd quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports / Reuters
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(TAGS: Sport Basketball NBA) *** Local Caption *** 2015-12-24T044552Z_1591095791_NOCID_RTRMADP_3_NBA-OKLAHOMA-CITY-THUNDER-AT-LOS-ANGELES-LAKERS.JPG
Professional basketball player Kevin Durant speaks to the media during a Nike unveiling event in New York, March 17, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
May 30, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30, right) is congratulated by Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) after game seven of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Thunder 96-88. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jul 7, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Kevin Durant poses for a photo with his jersey during a press conference after signing with the Golden State Warriors at the Warriors Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - Men's Preliminary Round Group A USA v Venezuela - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 08/08/2016. Deandre Jordan (USA) of the USA and Kevin Durant (USA) of the USA. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. Kevin Durant (USA) of the USA celebrates during the game. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. Jimmy Butler (USA) of the USA (L), Kevin Durant (USA) of the USA and Deandre Jordan (USA) of the USA (R) stand with their gold medals for the playing of the U.S. National Anthem during the presentation ceremony for men's basketball. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Apr 22, 2017; Portland, OR, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) smiles while sitting on the bench during warm-ups before game three of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 7, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) shoots as Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) guards during the first quarter in game three of the 2017 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 12, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrates with the Larry O'Brien Trophy after beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in game five of the 2017 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Nov 18, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts in the direction of fans after being fouled during the second half against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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No matter what Durant did, there was heat and hate. He won two Final MVPs, but it hardly mattered. There is no questioning his greatness on the court, but as free agency awaited this offseason, there remained a belief he still had something to prove and needed his own team, maybe the New York Knicks, to truly become an all-time great.
Durant, 30, is a sensitive guy. He’s prone to firing back on social media and barking at reporters. He allows the criticism of the few to overwhelm the cheers of the many.
Now he had shown his mettle by working to return, despite that looming free agency. Now he’d put it all on the line when his teammates needed him most. And now, well, now it had all just gotten so much worse.
“The initial injury was a calf injury,” Myers said. “This is not a calf injury.”
Did Durant come back too soon? The injury says yes, clearly, but that’s hard to predict. This is the balance of professional sports. Teams want their players to play, while players need to protect themselves.
The reason the NBA Finals is even in Canada is because Leonard spent a year battling with his old team, the San Antonio Spurs, about just how injured he was. Trust was lost. Hard feelings were born. He eventually got shipped to Toronto and turned the Raptors into true contenders.
That’s the business side of this, and Myers kept trying to talk it out, like he was processing it all, like he was trying to make it sound OK, mostly to himself.
“He was cleared to play tonight,” Myers said. “That was a collaborative decision. I don’t believe there is anybody to blame, but I understand this world. If you have to, you can blame me. I run our basketball operations department. … He went through four weeks with a medical team, and it was thorough and it was experts and multiple MRIs and multiple doctors, and we felt good about the process. … The people that worked with him and cleared him are good people, they’re good people.”
Maybe Myers deserves the blame or maybe he’s just trying to fall on the grenade or maybe he just feels so terrible about it all he’s bashing himself for everything.
Maybe it’s deeper than that even. Was Durant trying to prove himself to the critics who questioned why he wasn’t back as the Finals began slipping away, who asked about his toughness, who wondered about his commitment, who even dared to suggest he wasn’t as valuable to the Warriors as he thought?
“Those talking heads who say we’re better without him, that's just ludicrous,” Klay Thompson said. “Like that's crazy. This is the best player in the world.”
Toughness is not a new narrative for Durant. Growing up in Prince George County, Maryland, just outside Washington D.C., other kids would call him “cookie” because he’d supposedly crumble when hit. That’s just his nature. When he played youth football, he once apologized to another kid for tackling him too hard. During the NBA draft he was mocked for not being able to bench-press 185 pounds. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, it’s just that his long, thin, teenage frame was incapable of holding muscle.
So did he push himself back Monday night because of that? Did he return too soon because a lifetime of chatter made him eager to silence words he never should have cared about in the first place?
There’s no telling, but Bob Myers sure hinted at it and sure sounded like he wished he could have protected KD from that.
“He’s one of the most misunderstood people,” Myers said. “He’s a good teammate. He’s a good person. It’s not fair.”
Maybe that’s what had rocked Myers the most. The business ramifications of the injury are obvious. It may change everything in the NBA this offseason. Does someone still sign him to a max contract, even if he might be out for a season? Does this cause him to stay in Golden State, with a focus on 2020-21? Was he going to stay anyway?
For Myers, though, this was clearly personal. A good guy dealing with a bad break. A committed teammate getting punished for caring too much. Did Golden State do right by him? Did they protect him? Is this even fair to ask?
“Sports is,” Myers said, searching for words, “it’s people. Sports is people. I know Kevin takes a lot of hits sometimes, but he just wants to play basketball. And right now, he can’t. Basketball has gotten him through his life. … I don’t know that we can all understand how much it means to him. He just wants to play basketball with his teammates and compete.”
This is really what he had always wanted, a brotherhood to believe in. It’s what drew him to Golden State, an all-for-one mentality that didn’t care about box scores or All-Star votes, just championships. Durant had lived his basketball life as a modern mercenary, three high schools, two AAU teams, a one-and-done in college. Everything was about getting to the NBA. Once he got there, he wanted the stability of the team that he never had.
Now here it all came out. He’d risked his future for his guys and then they managed to block out the emotion of losing him to get this series back to California. They put together an all-time great win. They escaped Toronto to fight another day.
Yet it all felt so empty.
“I just told the team, I didn't know what to say,” coach Steve Kerr said. “On one hand, I’m so proud of them.