Kevin Durant is a basketball superstar whose commitment to Team USA has never wavered. As he attempts to lead the U.S. men's team to a fourth successive Olympic championship in Tokyo, Durant has the opportunity to claim his third gold medal - and write himself into the history books in the process.
The United States' men's basketball team got off to somewhat of a rough start in their preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, losing two of their three exhibition games. But in Kevin Durant - a two-time Olympic gold medallist and NBA champion - they possess one of the preeminent stars in world basketball.
However, the U.S. team that is heading to Tokyo - while jam-packed with elite NBA talent - is limited in Olympic experience, with only three players (including Durant) having competed at past Games.
And if Team USA are going to make good on their unofficial title of Olympic favourites and secure a fourth consecutive gold medal in Tokyo, Durant will have to use all his skill and experience of international basketball to lead the USA to glory.
The challenge, while great, is one the future Hall of Famer is well-suited for.
A proven winner
When USA Basketball announced the 12-man roster for Tokyo 2020, Durant's name stood out from his teammates - who themselves are exceptional players in their own right.
Since entering the NBA as the no.2 pick in the 2007 draft, Durant has become a paragon of basketball excellence. In addition to winning back-to-back championships as a member of the Golden State Warriors in 2017 and 2018 (winning Finals MVP on both occasions), Durant is an 11-time All-Star, four-time scoring champion, six-time All-NBA First Team selection, the 2008 NBA Rookie of the Year and the 2014 NBA MVP.
While the 2020-21 season ended in disappointment for Durant as his Brooklyn Nets were eliminated from the playoffs in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the multi-dimensional 208cm (6'10") guard/forward put up an impressive stat line of 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game (all while shooting 53.7 per cent from the field and 45.0 per cent from three). His performance this past campaign has been quite the accomplishment, considering Durant only returned to action 18 months after undergoing surgery for a ruptured Achilles tendon, which he suffered during Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals.
Evidently, Durant is back to playing at a world-class level just in time for the Olympic Games.
2018 Getty Images
Kevin Durant's commitment to Team USA
For Durant, winning on the hardwood isn't limited to NBA courts.
Including men's national team training camps, the 32-year-old has played on 11 USA Basketball teams, winning two Olympic gold medals and the 2010 FIBA World Championship in the process.
Clearly, Durant has nothing left to prove when it comes to international ball, and surely no one would have given him grief if he had declined the invitation to play in Tokyo in favour of gaining some rest this offseason.
But for the Washington, D.C. native, his participation was never in doubt.
“I committed to USA Basketball when I was coming out of college and every chance that I can get that I’m healthy and my mind is in the right place to play basketball.
I’m going to go out there and play. [I’m] fortunate to be around the best players in the world and around the best athletes as well, so I just wanted to take in the experience."
- Kevin Durant to reporters following a Team USA practise in Las Vegas in early July.
With his latest Olympic selection, Durant has joined an ultra-exclusive club as one of only four male players selected to three or more Olympic teams (the other three are Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and David Robinson). At Tokyo 2020, he will not only have the opportunity to surpass Anthony for most Olympic points by a male player in U.S. basketball history (Durant sits on 311 points, just 25 behind Anthony's 336), but he could also join Anthony as the only two male players in USA Basketball history to win three Olympic gold medals.
But before Durant can think about that particular record, not to mention securing a third gold medal in Japan, he and his U.S. teammates must first clean up some of the weaknesses that were laid bare in their pre-Olympic warmup games.
2012 Getty Images
"We'll be ready."
While many online commentators vehemently expressed their panic following the USA's surprising 0-2 start to exhibition play after a stunning loss to Nigeria and another defeat to Australia, Durant said the team "will get it right."
“It’s easy to say that after two losses without any context,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “Let's just go down the roster of each team and you can find the answer. If you’re looking for NBA talent, those teams have it. Understand where we’re at as a team and then you can make assumptions for yourself.
"We do have all the best players in the league, but these national teams have NBA players, too, who are now No. 1 options and they’re used to playing that role internationally. We’re still adjusting as a team, and that’s not making excuses. There's a lot of context people need to understand. We didn’t expect to lose a game, but losing games happen. We’ll get it right.
“We’re a team that’s still coming together and trying to find our identity," Durant added. "We have so many great players that you can play so many different ways, and we are indecisive at times on defence and offence. In the midst of us figuring it out, these teams are established and they’re running their sets. We’re working on our sets. The stars were kind of aligned for us to lose early on.”
The USA righted the ship in their third exhibition game with a comprehensive 108-80 victory over Argentina, with Durant and Bradley Beal leading all scorers with 17 points each (Beal has since been ruled out of competing at the Games after being placed in health and safety protocol on 14 July).
The U.S. men's team has one more exhibition game to play in Las Vegas before leaving for Tokyo, vs Spain on 18 July; the USA vs Australia game scheduled for 16 July was cancelled because of health and safety protocols.
The game against Spain, the world's no.2 ranked team and 2016 bronze medallists, should provide a good indication of how much Team USA has progressed since their two early losses and easy victory over Argentina (where they weren't greatly tested).
Of course, the real tests will start on 25 July in Tokyo, when the US' Olympic campaign gets underway with their first game against France. And while Team USA are under immense pressure to win a fourth gold medal as the dominant nation in world basketball, Durant says he, his teammates and his coaches are ready for the challenge.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and we’re prepared to go to work. Our goal [of winning gold] hasn't changed. We'll be ready.”