After winning this year's NBA MVP award by a landslide, it's now time for Kevin Durant to bring a championship to Oklahoma City. He's reached the point in his career when all great, young players are expected to deliver. Can he handle the fallout if he fails?
Congratulations to Kevin Durant on locking down his first NBA MVP award with a whopping 119 first-place votes.
Now go win a championship.
Seven seasons into his career with four scoring titles and now an MVP under his belt, the next logical step for Durant is to join the Jordans, LeBrons and Kobes of the world by winning an NBA title.
In a league where every great young player is compared to Jordan himself, the line between champion and chump – the cutoff point for greatness – is seven years, because that’s how long it took Jordan to win his first NBA title. You get a free ride for seven years devoid of criticism, but anything less than a championship beyond that point, and the buzzards start circling.
LeBron needed nine years to win his first championship with the Miami Heat. The years leading up to it were rife with hilarious failures, including his infamous Game 5 performance against the Celtics in 2011 in which Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert accused LeBron of quitting, not to mention the meltdown the following season in the Finals against Dallas.
The buzzards weren’t just circling LeBron after the Heat lost to the Mavericks in 2011. They were plucking his eyes out, ready to cast stones at anyone who dared to compare a lethargic choke-artist to the almighty Jordan. Then LeBron won a title the following year, and another one last season, hitting several key shots in Miami’s come-from-behind win over San Antonio in Game 6 of the Finals before dropping 37 on the Spurs in Game 7.
Now LeBron’s the man. All is forgiven. Donald Sterling would probably let him watch a game at the Staples Center.
And now the focus shifts to Durant. He and LeBron are the Bird and Magic of this generation. Durant said all the right things during his MVP speech, thanking his teammates and, more importantly, his mother in an emotional tribute to the woman who sacrificed so much to make sure he had food, clothing and shelter growing up.
We know Durant is a class act. To some people, he’s the antithesis to LeBron, who announced his signing with the Miami Heat during a nationally-televised special on ESPN.
But can he handle criticism? Can he deal with the inevitable backlash if the Thunder don’t win it all this year. Showing the validity of the seven-year rule, Durant has played most of his career without facing any serious repercussions for Oklahoma City’s inability to win in the playoffs despite the fact it’s had plenty of opportunities. Last year, they lost in the Western Conference semifinals in five games against Memphis. Two years ago, they lost to LeBron’s heat in the Finals. Now they’re tangling with the Clippers in the conference semifinals, needing a win tonight in Game 2 after an embarrassing loss in the series’ opener.
Last week following the Thunder’s Game 5 loss to Memphis in the opening round of the playoffs in which Durant missed a critical free throw in overtime, the hometown paper, The Oklahoman, ran a screaming headline across the front page that read, “Mr. Unreliable.” Fanboys fumed. Other media jumped all over it. Durant himself questioned the accuracy of the headline despite the fact he had shot just 20 percent in the previous two games.
The backlash against the paper – not Durant – was so poignant the sports editor who wrote the headline issued an apology.
No one ever apologized for criticizing LeBron in the aftermath of his epic playoff failures, nor did he ever address the topic. He just went out and kept playing, kept making commercials and eventually began winning titles. Maybe his skin is a bit thicker than Durant’s. Maybe not.
In any event, it’ll be interesting to see how Durant handles similar criticism if and when it comes again. If the Thunder get run off the court by the Clippers in this series, the media will be well within its right to question the game’s most valuable player if he’s unable to get his team over the hump. What’s fair is fair. Durant has reached the cutoff point where all great players destined to have their jerseys hung from the rafters one day must finally deliver when it counts most.
He’s got almost every piece of hardware you can earn (even an NBA All-Star Game MVP award), except the one he needs to win in the court of public opinion to justify the deification. Now’s his chance. The free ride is over.
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