Kevin Durant is still the most talented scorer on the planet. He used the Tokyo 2020 Men’s Olympic Basketball Tournament to remind everyone of that.
Team USA won its fourth consecutive gold medal, beating France by five points in the final, in what was its most trying Olympics since their disappointing 2004 bronze medal finish.
Durant was the captain of this year’s team and was also their undisputed best player, leading them in scoring and overtaking Carmelo Anthony as the USA men’s all-time leading scorer in Olympic history in the process. What makes this feat more impressive is that the 32-year-old Durant has only appeared in three tourneys compared to Anthony’s four.
By winning gold this year, he also joins Anthony, his teammate in the 2012 and 2016 games, as the only male basketball players to ever win three gold medals.
In 2012, Durant had his first taste of Olympic action alongside a team that had five holdovers from the 2008 “Redeem Team” that was assembled to reclaim the gold medal following the 2004 debacle.
Despite the presence of late prime Kobe Bryant and LeBron James at the peak of his athletic powers, Durant established himself as the team’s most consistent offensive weapon at the age of 23. He led the team in points at the London games, kickstarting a run of three consecutive Olympic games where he finished as Team USA’s leading scorer.
Come 2016, Durant and Anthony were the only holdovers from 2012 who suited up for the stars and stripes. Thrust into more of a leadership role with a young team, Durant remained just as lethal. In the final at Rio, he put up 30 points for the second consecutive Olympic gold medal game as they blew out Serbia 96-66.
The Tokyo games were Durant’s first as the most experienced member of the team in international play and he did not falter in the face of their lofty expectations, even in the wake of their two exhibition game defeats and opening day loss to France. Durant finished with his highest Olympic scoring average, a USA-best 20.7 points per game, while he was also second on the team in rebounds and assists.
More importantly, Durant was there to carry the load for Team USA when their offense stagnated over long stretches. This year’s team notoriously started games slow before storming back in the third quarter, but the veteran Durant showed urgency and put the team on his shoulders in the first half.
With the Americans trailing by four in the opening quarter, 12-8, Durant put up 10 consecutive points over a three-minute span. He put them ahead, 18-15, with over a minute left in the period and they would never relinquish that lead. He wound up scoring 21 of his 29 points by halftime and fell short of a third straight 30-point Olympic gold medal game only because he shot 8 of 9 from the free throw line.
What has made Durant’s brilliant run over the past few months more special is that he is barely two years removed from the Achilles injury that he suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals while playing with the Golden State Warriors. He jumped to the Brooklyn Nets in the aftermath, though he missed the entire ‘19-’20 campaign before playing sporadically this past regular season while continuing to recover.
Durant looked like his old self while on the court, averaging 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 5.6 assists–all within the range of his career averages–albeit he appeared in less than half of their games before the postseason.
Come the playoffs though, he almost single-handedly took down the eventual NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks in the second round, pushing them to a Game 7 in spite of a hampered James Harden and Kyrie Irving on the sidelines nursing an injury from earlier in the series.
Durant saved his best for last, tallying 48 points, nine rebounds, and six assists in their Game 7 overtime loss to the Bucks, where he hit a tough turnaround jumper at the end of regulation that forced overtime. He was actually an inch away from winning the match after that clutch shot was deemed a two-pointer instead of a three when the tip of his foot was discovered to be barely over the three-point line.
His recent performance at the Olympics a few months later only served as further proof that Durant is back in tiptop shape. He now has a third gold medal to add to his well-decorated career which includes two NBA championships and Finals MVP awards, the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player trophy, nine All-NBA selections, 11 All-Star appearances, and four scoring titles.
Durant is already regarded as the finest scorer in the game today and if he continues to play at this level, there is no question that he will continue to grow his already impressive resume. He belongs atop the discussion on who is the best player today. Regardless of whether the rest of the basketball community agrees, the world should at least come to appreciate the generational offensive virtuoso–and social media superstar–that is Kevin Durant. Some people may knock him for being a little too sensitive to online trolls, but you can never knock his talent.