OKLAHOMA CITY — There was not much time left now. There certainly was no doubt.
It was done, save for the final 14.6 seconds.
The Spurs had been beaten; Oklahoma City had capped a magnificent run through Western Conference royalty in Dallas, the Lakers and San Antonio to reach the NBA Finals.
The arena was ready to explode in celebration, in what really was a celebration of the 23-year-old kid who made it all possible. And all Kevin Durant could think to do in this moment was share it with his mom.
I do not think I have liked KD as much as when he walked up and embraced her and his brother because what Durant said that moment was, “Thank you.”
Thank you for driving me to practice.
Thank you for attending my games.
Thank you for disciplining me, for being involved, for being my biggest fan, for always believing in me.
“My mom has been believing in me since Day 1,” Durant said. “I never want to take those moments for granted.”
We live in cynical times. Jobs disappear daily. Wars rage. Politics has become this ugly, mean discourse and the little guy is disillusioned. Sports are also infected by this malaise. The Decision and DUIs, bounties and brain injuries have slowly siphoned the joy out of games that once brought so much.
If the guard must change, and it always does in sports, OKC is exactly the team you hope has next.
This is a small-market team with a fervent fan base and young and exciting players. They remind us how sports should be played — with fearlessness, with joy, with appreciation.
“I was fortunate enough to play in this league for many years, and I also was fortunate enough to win a championship in Houston,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “And now I get to coach a team that believes in each other, that continues to impress me by the way they work, by the way they care for one another, and that’s what the good teams do in this league.”
This has not been a particularly joyful season or playoffs in the NBA, if we are being honest. All of the injuries — Derrick Rose in particular comes to mind — and flopping and bitching about officiating and officiating worthy of bitching have been a buzzkill.
Really, since Linsanity, we have been inundated with buzzkill — Knicks dysfunction and Lamar Odom dysfunction, Dwight Howard’s ego and Michael Jordan’s fallibility, and mostly yet another year of watching the Miami Heat joylessly drudge through the playoffs.
And so in a league defined, at least at this moment, by whom we root against, the Thunder provide hope. They are exciting and young.
They have stayed together, grown up together, failed together.
It was the failure that strengthened them. All of the losses to Dallas, the missed shots at the buzzer, the doubt coming into this year that they were too young, too inexperienced, too not-Miami.
“You can look at it as a negative,” Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said, “but I think as a group and as an organization we have seen some light and we saw that one day we’d be at this moment.”
Oklahoma City is a team whose time has come. And there is no stopping a team whose time has come, though God help them San Antonio tried on Wednesday.
The Spurs went down Alamo-style, a mentally tough bunch with too much pride to just lay down. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker built leads and fought to protect them, and Stephen Jackson was an absolute beast off the bench.
He finished with 23 points, including an insane 6 for 7 from behind the 3-point arc.
You just got the feeling watching, as the Spurs built as much as an 18-point lead that there was going to be no lead able to contain Durant. He played all 48 minutes. Do you know how crazy that is? Even at 23 years old that is crazy. And he proved in those minutes why he is better than “The Chosen One” right now.
Nike does not get to choose, after all. Talent decides.
Games like Wednesday decide, and watching KD score 34 points with 14 rebounds, five assists and a drawn charge in a big-time game makes it not a choice at all. He has used these playoffs to establish himself as the best player in the game at the moment.
“That’s his first charge of the year,” Westbrook teased.
“I was going to say that, Russ,” Durant said. “I just wanted to go out and sacrifice my body for my team.”
Afterward, Spurs big man Tim Duncan pulled KD aside to tell him congrats and wish him luck. There is mutual respect here. You sometimes get the feeling listening to older NBA players that they look at some of these kids and think, “What the hell?” But it is hard not to respect Durant.
And it is impossible to ignore what OKC has done this postseason.
“It’s almost like a Hollywood script for OKC in a sense,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “You know, they went through Dallas, last year’s NBA champion, then they went through the Lakers, then they went through us.”
Those three teams represent 10 of the past 13 championships. Beating them all is an amazing feat for anybody. It is crazy when done by a group of 22- and 23-year-olds with only Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins bringing up the median age. It is also a testament to Durant.
He had a chance to gloss himself Wednesday. He instead said thanks.
Thanks for being here.
Thanks for always being there.
It was one of the better moments from this NBA season, and in these cynical times we need to say thanks to the Thunder for letting us enjoy this ride with them.