By JANIE McCAULEY
AP Sports Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – They made their group plea to Kevin Durant last summer, Stephen Curry and the core of the Golden State Warriors traveling cross-country to go at a prized free agent the only way they do it around here: with “Strength in Numbers.”
Durant didn’t really need a hard sell that day in the Hamptons. He chose Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and a chance at his first championship over returning to Oklahoma City. Scorned and scrutinized from every angle for that decision, Durant triumphantly raised his arms and an MVP trophy Monday night all these months later- beaming as a first-time NBA champion, just as planned.
He hugged mother Wanda many a time. And Curry, too. Even LeBron James, celebrating the fight and brilliance they each demonstrated during an entertaining back-and-forth basketball show in this Finals trilogy. Golden State in 2015, the Cavaliers last year, the Warriors again this time.
“I hear all the narratives throughout the season that I was joining, I was hopping on bandwagons, I was letting everybody else do the work,” Durant said. “But then that was far from the truth. I came in and tried to help my team. Like I said, tried to be myself, be aggressive and sacrifice as well.”
For all that chatter about chemistry on a super-team – some called them “supervillains” – how there might not be enough shots for all the big-time scorers, the Warriors kept winning as the world watched the every move of the East Bay franchise under the microscope.
Durant and Curry were always right in the middle, yet they stayed loose and focused by building their own relationship – not to mention shooting skills – through regular shooting contests that were oh so close.
“The way that he embraced the opportunity in the Finals, it was unbelievable,” Curry said. “It’s kind of crazy to think about the conversations we had this summer and going into the year about how we can both mesh and do what we do and be the players that we are and (to) see it come to life in this series, it was unbelievable.”
Durant, an eight-time All-Star who only needed a ring to cement his superstar status, scored 39 points in a championship-clinching 129-120 victory and averaged 35.2 points and 8.4 rebounds in these Finals.
“I’m just happy for him. He’s had an amazing career, but he just took it to the next level,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He was incredible all season long. He had an amazing series, just dominated. Everybody for the last 10 years knew how good he was, but until you break through and win that first championship, there’s always still something there. I’m just so happy Kevin has broken through. And there’s more to come from him.”
Durant came back late in the regular season from a 19-game absence with a left knee injury, then dealt with a tender calf early in the playoffs. Still, he insisted he had another notch to raise his game, and he certainly found it. He dramatically drove and dunked on Cleveland’s defense, knocked down big 3-pointers and blocked shots while handling the load of defending King James.
Ten years after becoming the No. 2 draft pick behind Greg Oden, Durant has reached the pinnacle. Whenever he is asked about his own accomplishments, he is always quick to offer a reminder just as he did with a new NBA champions hat on his head: “It’s a team sport.” He can’t do it alone.
“I can’t believe it, but I have to,” Durant said recently of where he is after a decade. “I’m really proud where I am right now as a player and being as consistent every year as I’ve been. That’s something I talked about coming into the league, wanting to do it year in and year out. I’ve been able to accomplish that individually. But this is not an individual sport. So I’ve also realized that as far as becoming more of a team player, since my first year I’ve grown so much and I’m proud of myself in that area as well, but I’ve got a long ways to go.”
This is a major start. For those guys in the Hamptons recruiting Durant that day and all the others, they can’t wait for more.
“We felt like Kevin could come in and help us and, like I said, make it all complete,” Green said. “And he showed that. Finals MVP, 4-1, world champions. Doesn’t get much better than that.”
More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.