[anvplayer video=”4062949″ station=”998254″]
Kevin Durant, NBA champion.
It’s happening just like he hoped it would when he left Oklahoma City to sign with the stacked Golden State Warriors last offseason.
Durant has been nails this postseason, delivering time and time again for a team that was championship quality months before he signed on. Wednesday night’s Game 3 of the NBA Finals once again underscored what can happen when a great player joins a great team. With Durant surging toward a Finals MVP, the Warriors are 3-0 with a chance to become the first team in league history to go 16-0 during the playoffs.
Simply put, they’re more talented than LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.
With a sweep in the cards Friday night, Durant will take his leave from a star-studded group that includes legends Elgin Baylor, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson and Reggie Miller — Hall of Famers who never won a title.
Durant will join them in the Basketball Hall of Fame one day but will bring some finger bling to go with his bust. He’ll retire as perhaps the best shooting forward to ever lace them up, right there with Larry Bird and Dirk Nowitzki. The numbers will be there and if the Golden State front office handles its business, we’re looking at a dynasty remaining at an elite level for the next handful of seasons.
Here’s what I’m wondering: How will winning an NBA title affect his legacy at the University of Texas, where he played just one season?
The 2007 Big 12 player of the year was a can’t-miss prospect, and we all suspected he was going to be a great NBA player even before he played a single game at Texas. So he had to go after one season. Former Texas coach Rick Barnes told him as much.
His stay was brief but much appreciated by the locals who knew a premier talent when they recognized it. The Durant-led Horns didn’t win the way they won with T.J. Ford, who led them to the 2003 Final Four, or the way they won with guards D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams, who led them to the doorstep of another Final Four five years later.
Unlike some parts of Oklahoma City, fans never stopped loving Durant in Austin. His annual two-day fantasy basketball camp returns to town on July 20 and 21 and Durant will pack the Gregory Gymnasium floor and bring with him plenty of stories to share from his first championship season.
So where does he rank among Longhorns legends? Well, it begins with Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Vince Young who, despite having had his ups and downs in his post-NFL career could still run for mayor of Austin if he wanted to. Young is different than Durant in that his greatest moments came in college, but his Texas impact was greater because he delivered a championship-starved fan base its first football title in 35 years.
Roger Clemens won a College World Series title in 1983, then captured seven Cy Young awards, seven ERA titles and a pair of World Series crowns. Ricky Williams won a Heisman Trophy, but his teams never threatened to win championships, either at Texas or in the pros. Tommy Nobis was the defensive linchpin of the 1963 college football national champs.
Football legend Bobby Layne won three NFL championships with Hall of Fame careers in both pro and college. Earl Campbell won the Heisman and earned our bottomless respect because he had to face Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert and the rest of Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain defense 14 times over seven seasons before retiring as arguably the greatest power back ever.
NBA great Slater Martin won five titles and appeared in seven All-Star games, but played in the shadow of Minneapolis Lakers center George Mikan. Durant may not match Martin’s handful of rings, but his impact and numbers — he’ll surpass 20,000 career points next season — will be much greater by the time he’s finished.
Colt McCoy and Ford were college legends who never led teams to championships in college or the pros.
As far as individual sports are concerned, no list is complete without golf legends Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, who combined to win 38 PGA Tour events, including Crenshaw’s two Masters titles.
This is Durant’s time and he’s far from finished. His story is still being written with an era of dominance on the horizon, starting with a title coronation sometime over the next four days.
We spent this discussion comparing him to other Texas greats. If this series is any indicator, Durant could one day be the standard to which others are compared.