Kevin Durant is an NBA champion, a league MVP and a certified legend in the game, but 552 days is a long time and enough to make even one of the greatest basketball players ever feel nerves when stepping on the floor for a preseason game.
Durant, of course, was returning from a very long recovery following an Achilles tear. He had been itching to get back on the court and Sunday, a 119-114 Nets win over the Wizards, was his much-awaited return.
"I was anxious, nervous. I visualized this moment for so long," Durant said. "Nine, 10 months. Just thinking about how it would be this next phase of my career. I felt like I was just chomping at the bit."
Durant said the anticipation was made worse by the league calendar getting delayed due to the coronavirus. He initially thought his return would be in October, but he had to wait a few more months for the 2020-21 season to begin.
Once Durant finally got out there, he quickly reminded basketball fans of his extraordinary gifts. Just seconds after tip-off, he scored his first basket on an emphatic two-handed dunk. He then made a series of difficult shots, even when the Wizards countered with good defense, to accrue 15 points in 24 minutes. He went 5-for-12 from the field.
"I don't even feel like I played great," Durant said. "I just need to see how I play a real NBA game with reps. It's a good place to stand and I'm trying to build from it."
Durant said he will truly know how good he can be post-injury once he matches up with the best players in the league, especially at his position. No offense to those who played for the Wizards on Sunday night, of course. That means LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and the like.
But before he faces the ultimate challenges the NBA can offer, he has to continue to take the necessary steps. Sunday was one of them. He went through the entire process of playing a game.
"It felt great to be back in my routine, to be a player again. I can't wait to get into the swing of things and be one of the guys again," Durant said.
Durant will also need to see how his body reacts in the coming days. He's 32 years old, not 22 anymore, and he has a surgically-repaired Achilles tendon.
"My body feels good right now. We'll see how it goes going forward. I don't envision anything happening, anything setting me back," Durant said.
Durant did feel some soreness because of one particular play in the second quarter when he took a charge on Wizards second-year forward Rui Hachimura. Hachimura is strong, with big shoulders and when he gets going downhill, he can be a force to reckon with.
Durant tracked him from the perimeter to the baseline and snuck in front to draw the offensive foul. It was a solid defensive play, but one he paid for.
"I'm definitely feeling it right now," Durant said after the game.
"I thought he was going to have a hole in his chest," teammate Landry Shamet said.
Getting used to contact like that is another one of the steps Durant will have to take. But there is no question seeing him back in an NBA game doing what he does best was a great sign for the sport. One of its brightest stars looks well on his way to regaining his form.