OAKLAND -- So often a hurricane unto themselves, the Warriors are now at the center of a raging debate that transcends sports or politics or personality. Their integrity is under attack and their compassion is being questioned.
We all know why: Kevin Durant’s return to the court Monday in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, after a 32-day absence due to what was described as a calf injury, began with a brilliant 12 minutes of basketball and ended in sudden tragedy that landed him in surgery 36 hours later.
Though there are no regrets from the Warriors and, more significantly, from Durant, we’ve been inundated with heated chatter on TV and radio, as well as various social media outlets. Durant’s injury is ground zero for a finger-pointing epidemic.
“Everybody has great 20/20 hindsight,” Stephen Curry said Wednesday.
NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley says KD should not have been playing and that the Warriors are to be blamed. NBA Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady says, nah, that KD did what great athletes do. Former NBA player Eddie Johnson agrees with McGrady.
Former NFL cornerback Charles Woodson and current NFL cornerback Richard Sherman agree with McGrady and Johnson. Former NBA center -- and ex-teammate of Durant -- Kendrick Perkins says, nah, and blames the Warriors for “pressuring that man to play.”
Such madness tends to surface in moments of misfortune or failure. Emotions never flare higher than in the midst of anger or the wake of loss. It happens with the death or serious accidents involving loved ones, with incidents that bring pain and even with natural disasters that alter lives.
Folks seek answers and, failing to get a response that satisfies, assign blame.
Bob Myers, president of basketball operations for the Warriors, visualizing this reaction, walked up to the podium two hours after KD went down and accepted responsibility.
“As Bob mentioned the other night, there's going to be blame,” coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday. “There's going to be finger pointing. We understand that and we accept that. This is kind of what you sign up for when you get into coaching, general management, in the NBA. There is all kinds of coverage, judgment, criticism. And it's all part of it, so we accept that.”
The Warriors’ medical staff, with Dr. Rick Celebrini, is taking blows for not realizing Durant was vulnerable. Kerr is being criticized for too quickly extending KD’s minutes. Some are blaming Durant, who can be a free agent on June 30, for not protecting his own interests.
Attempting to set the record straight, Durant posted on Instagram shortly after coming out of surgery Wednesday.
Kerr explained the inclusive process that led to KD being cleared to play in Game 5, pointing out that the decision was reached in consultation with the team’s medical staff, Durant’s “second opinion” doctor, KD himself, and his business partner, Rich Kleiman,
“Kevin checked all the boxes, and he was cleared to play by everybody involved,” Kerr said.
The outside opinions are less about Durant than the aftermath. The scene in Toronto, with KD dropping to the floor clutching his lower right leg, was enough to spark outrage. And outrage needs an outlet and, eventually, a target.
Who and what could be more convenient than the employer?
“There are 24 hours in a day and there are a lot of different takes you can have on a situation like that,” Curry said. “In our cases, and as well as ‘K’ and knowing him as a person and behind the scenes, we all want to play basketball. If we have an opportunity to play or a chance to play, we want to play. That's just how it is as competitors, and especially at this stage.
“I trust our medical staff and know Bob Myers has our best interests in terms of not just what we can do in this series, but long term in our overall health. You see how hard he took it, talking to you guys after the game. And that's really genuine and authentic. So, you can waste time talking about the what-ifs and this and that. Injuries are tough and they suck. They're a part of our game, and they're going to continue to be a part of our game.”
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The outrage will pass, though probably not this week or this month. It’s going to take a while. Right now, though, venting helps. It can be therapeutic.
So don’t be too hard on Barkley and Perkins and those who currently share their opinion. They’re saying what they feel, not what they know.