The clock struck midnight on July 1 and the craze surrounding the first day of free agency in the NBA cascaded from the tourist-filled streets of the Hamptons on Long Island to South Beach in Miami to Lake Shore Drive in Chicago and right on out to the west coast, and particularly to the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area where the Golden State Warriors had their sights set on Kevin Durant, the former NBA MVP and the prize of the 2016 NBA free agent pool.
Durant situated himself, his advisors and a handful of NBA team suitors in East Hampton, the normally sleepy beach town on the eastern shores of New York's Long Island that transforms itself every summer into a haven for the rich and famous, the Wall Street tycoons and investment bankers. It was the Independence Day holiday weekend, but not an NBA team front office was sipping Pina Coladas.
Instead, there was a series of meetings and presentations, as Durant and his agent invited six NBA teams to the negotiating table, including incumbent Oklahoma City, and invited guests from the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics. Reportedly, the main topic of discussion was simply basketball and the ability to win games, and ultimately championships.
When the meetings concluded, Durant eliminated a few of the clubs straight away, but took an extra night, the night of July 3rd, to sleep on his decision. On July 4th, Durant used a online platform for athletes, The Players Tribune, to announce his decision to play for the Warriors. The impact of the announcement was enough to crash the site, of which Durant is listed as Deputy Publisher. The impact on the NBA, social media and the sports world, in general, made a "slow news" holiday weekend seem like Election Day.
The sports pundits quickly took sides in stride with their polarizing viewpoints, a statement in itself in the way news is both distributed and consumed in today's world.
"It's good for the NBA", or "it's bad for the NBA," said many. "Durant sold out," said a few. "Durant is entitled to work and play in the city of his choosing," said fewer. Suffice to say, everyone had an opinion. Basketball aficionados everywhere wondered if Durant could blend in with the high powered Golden State offense. Would he dominate the ball and limit touches for NBA All-Stars like Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Steph Curry?
Interestingly, the proof might come much sooner than NBA training camps or opening night this fall.
Durant, Thompson, Green and their nine newfound teammates will be thrust into competition this August as members of the 2016 USA Olympics Men's Basketball team. They will train together in Las Vegas from July 18-22 with a game against international power Argentina closing the camp. The team will go on to additional "friendlies" with games against China in both Los Angeles (July 24) and Oakland (July 26). Warriors fans will not have to wait until the fall to see Durant at Oracle Arena. He'll be there soon, on the USA basketball Showcase tour before TEAM USA moves along to Chicago (July 29 vs. Venezuela) and Houston (August 1 vs. Nigeria) before processing by the USOC and a trip to Rio for this summer's Olympic Games.
USA Basketball's longtime head coach Mike Krzyzewski, the Hall of Famer from Duke, will be the first to see Durant play as an employee of the Warriors. Coach K will blend the talents of 12 incredible NBA all-stars, stressing their abilities to share the ball, make the extra pass, play defense, and work together in a defensive transition game that leaves turnover-prone international foes in the dust during a 40-minutes of hell experience that rarely allows competition to come within a dozen points.
Yes, Coach K and the USA will miss Curry's outside shooting and they'll miss LeBron James' all-around abilities, his international experience and his intimidation factor when they win up facing Spain or hometown Brazil in a medal round game. But, surely Durant and his newfound Warriors teammates will learn the most important thing about the sport of basketball on their way to and from Rio.
Training camp and the exhibitions will be key. They'll need to blend into a team, to take pride in their roles and to work as one. Surely, they'll learn how to play together, as a team. The reward this summer should be an Olympic gold medal, a priceless piece of sporting prestige. The reward next season? We'll all have to wait and see.