Programming note: Watch the re-air of the Warriors' 2017 NBA Finals-clinching win over the Cavs tonight at 8 PT on NBC Sports Bay Area.
A black Tesla carrying precious cargo stopped in the crowded Oracle Arena parking lot hours after the Warriors won the 2017 NBA Finals, at the insistence of one Kevin Durant.
Carrying his first of two NBA Finals MVP trophies, clad in his first championship hat, Durant walked into the crowd, basking in his biggest personal conquest to date.
On the surface, Durant simultaneously had reached his personal and professional mountaintops. Eleven months removed from his departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder, he had exorcised the manufactured demons that come with nine title-less seasons. His summer signing with the Warriors in 2016 solidified one of the greatest collections of talent in NBA history.
Hours before his parking-lot party, Durant capped a series by outplaying LeBron James, the league's best player and his biggest on-court rival, over the five-game series. But the moment, as Durant and the Warriors found out years later, never yielded the long-term happiness he believed it would.
Durant came to the Bay in search of happiness months after his last season with the Thunder.
Initially, Oklahoma City embraced him. Off the court, he returned the favor, donating more than $1 million toward disaster relief efforts following a tornado in 2013. On the court, Durant was just as giving, helping the Thunder reach the playoffs seven times, including a Finals appearance in 2012. Along the way, he formed one of the league's formidable duos with Russell Westbrook. But, after nine seasons, Durant felt he wanted more, heading West to find fulfillment alongside Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Green's role in Durant's psyche was noteworthy. The Warriors forward recruited Durant for much of the 2015-16 season, even as the Thunder positioned themselves as the defending champs' biggest Western Conference adversary. Green continued his push after the Warriors' loss to the Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals, admitting he called Durant, pleading for him to head West, and again during the team's pitch meeting one month later in The Hamptons.
Green's prodding from the West Coast made sense soon after Durant left the Plains for the Bay. Immediately after he announced his departure, bedlam commenced in Oklahoma City. Reports of people burning jerseys surprised even Durant.
"I really didn’t think it was that serious until I started to see the backlash and see the hateful things that people were saying," Durant said in 2017. "It’s just continually bad, it’s just still hate. It is just pure hate."
The city's vitriol continued in Durant's return as an opponent. Cupcake shirts were the desired dress code at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and boos rang every time Durant touched the ball. The energy was so palpable that Durant's new teammates even jawed with fans courtside, puzzling him even more.
"I understand in a basketball sense that you want to be so loyal to your team, and you want to feel like you’re a part of something, because everybody wants to feel like they’re a part of something," Durant added in 2017. "So, I understood that part, but it’s got to the point now, it’s like, now it’s getting big.
"Like, come on man, what are we even talking about this for? This is basketball, I’m enjoying myself playing basketball. What you say and what you do is not affecting my work. That’s the most important thing is the work."
Durant's new address yielded success on and off the floor. The Warriors were flawless during the regular season, finishing with a league-best 67-15 record. That dominance continued in the playoffs, as the Warriors posted a 16-1 record, dismantling every team in its wake.
Along the way, Durant made his most convincing bid for status of the league's best player, averaging 25 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game through the first three rounds. He outplayed James in the Finals, capped by a dagger 3-pointer in his rival's face in Game 3, all but sealing his first title.
But in the days after Durant's first championship parade, things began to change for him. In the ensuing years, the bonds he built began to deteriorate. His mother, Wanda, a mainstay at Oracle Arena during his first season in Oakland, had financial disagreements with her son, according to the Wall Street Journal, and rarely came around as she and his brother, Wayne, retreated back East.
On the court, even after Durant claimed his second title over James and the Cavs, his relationship with Green took a hit, as a verbal sideline spat during a game against the Clippers in Los Anglees defined his headline-plagued final Warriors season. Durant became more distant from his teammates. Then, the player who once came to the Bay seeking a family environment left feeling like distant kinfolk.
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"I’ll never be one of those guys," Durant told the Wall Street Journal in September. "I didn’t get drafted there. Steph Curry, obviously drafted there. Andre Iguodala, won the first Finals, first championship. Klay Thompson, drafted there. Draymond Green, drafted there. And the rest of the guys kind of rehabilitated their careers there."
Durant is basketball's superstar nomad. Since high school, Oklahoma City marked the only place that saw his talents for more than three years. In Golden State, he said he wanted to play in a system suited for his game, for a team on the rise. Now, he's hoping to win alongside friends Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan in Brooklyn.
But as Durant learned in the days after he exited that Tesla in 2017, his true happiness will come from within, and no trophy or accolade can ever fill that void.