In an excerpt from his new book, The Victory Machine: The Making and Unmaking of the Warriors Dynasty, Ethan Sherwood Strauss detailed a tense interaction he had with Kevin Durant in January 2019.
After Durant took exception with an article Strauss wrote for The Athletic-one that highlighted the sacrifices the Warriors made for Durant in their offense-the two-time NBA Finals MVP accused the writer of trying to “rile up” Stephen Curry’s fans:
“I tried to make a few points, saying I didn’t begrudge him for having leverage with his contract, and insisted that I had good reason to write what I wrote. KD wasn’t impressed and accused me of trying to ‘rile up Steph’s fans.’ He expressed that this was a constant theme in the Bay. All of us local guys just wanted to kiss Steph’s ass at his expense. This was KD’s consistent lament. He would frequently squabble in direct-message conversations with the Warriors fans of Twitter, frequently accusing them of favoring Steph at his expense. In one such exchange that foreshadowed things to come, he was asked by the WarriorsWorld account whether two-time MVP Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving was the better player. ‘I gotta really sit down and analyze it,’ Durant demurred.”
Durant’s frustration with how he was treated by fans and media during his time in Golden State is well-trodden territory. He was viewed as more of an outsider than a core member of the championship crew-a widely respected but not beloved mercenary.
“I knew just about halfway point through the year. I could feel the separation between the two. I just feel like everybody was just waiting on me to make a decision on free agency-even from the coaches to my teammates to the media. Everybody was just like, ‘KD, what are you gonna do?’ It was like January, and I’m like, ‘Yo, I’m just trying to hoop. That’s all I want to do is play basketball every day.’ “I came in every single day and kept my head down. I ain’t say much, I wasn’t too excited about much, so my coaches and my teammates thought something was wrong with me. But I was really focused on the end goal, which was to win the third championship in a row.”
While the fissure began as outside noise, it eventually became the overarching story of the Warriors’ 2018-19 season. A public falling out with Draymond Green only made matters worse, and Durant recently acknowledged on Showtime’s All the Smoke podcast that he knew he would leave Golden State midway through the season:
Warriors coach Steve Kerr told The Ringer’s Bill Simmons (via the Mercury News) in November that Durant’s energy began to drift during his second season with Golden State.
Much of the Curry vs. Durant debate centered on who was more important to the Warriors’ championships. While Durant was a brilliant individual superstar who gave Golden State a one-on-one dynamism it lacked, all the numbers pointed to Curry as the straw that stirred the drink. But it was Durant who won the Finals MVP Awards and was the Warriors’ go-to player in clutch situations.
In other words: It was a viable debate. Durant was clearly the better basketball player, but was he the most important one?
Durant joined the Brooklyn Nets in July, alongside friends Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan. When he returns to the floor from his Achilles injury, there will be no question about who is the best or most important player on the team.