The best American basketball players once again lumbered to a sluggish start against Spain overnight, digging a 10-point hole and allowing some of those haunting doubts to creep in. Kevin Durant, the most prolific scorer in U.S. men's Olympic history, erased those vibes with a 13-point third quarter en route to 29 points in a 95-81 semifinal victory. He did what he always tends to do when the international lights burn bright and the once-familiar throne begins to feel like more of a hot seat as the world catches up to Dream Team dominance.
Durant is too online to be Captain America. He has no time for the aw-shucks persona and fake humility. But that doesn't make his exploits any less heroic. In the final game of group play, the Brooklyn Nets superstar poured in 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting after yet another rickety Team USA start. He emerged as the true alpha on a team chockfull of them, and not a moment too late. It was a breakout performance in Tokyo for Durant, who struggled to a 4-for-12 shooting night in a stunning loss to France in the Games opener. His services were not essential in a 54-point pasting of Iran, allowing him to be refreshed and ready when the moment presented itself.
Then, he struck. As he struck in the gold medal game back in 2016, which saw him erupt for 30 points months before his Golden State era would begin. Much as he struck in those quarters behind 27 points in 13 attempts against Argentina and 17 on six tries against France. This was after 30 points in the gold medal game against Spain in 2012 and another incredible shooting night against repeated gritty efforts against Argentina.
Durant absolutely lives to have his back up against the wall and immense weight on his shoulders. It's in those moments when he locks in and transcends the sport. Through his entire career he's presented as a player from the future, blessed with an array of offensive moves that can't be contained. He still shows flashes of that, even with age 33 looming. Even with tons of playoff and Olympic mileage on his tires.
Earlier these Games he passed Carmelo Anthony as America's top scorer in Olympic play. He's two wins from his third gold medal as the unquestioned No. 1. Perhaps he drops another 30-point night to win in style. There's always so much static on the line when the Durant conversation happens but it's essential to take a pause and consider what an incredible legacy he's already built. Three golds plus two NBA crowns and two NBA Finals MVPs. An unfortunate injury and a loose shoe derailed a potential third and fourth, but he's not done.
For the crime of being himself, Durant alienates some. But when he's wearing red, white, and blue, he's a hero for all Americans who want to get behind him. And delight at both his physical and mental ability. To be the face of a new era of superstars who contextualize the game but still love it enough to fight tooth and nail to emerge as a champion.
He's always been the future. We're just beginning to embrace his past and present greatness.