SAITAMA, Japan—Kevin Durant had every reason not to be here.
He already had two Olympic gold medals. He gritted his teeth through a grueling NBA schedule condensed by the pandemic as he was coming back from a torn Achilles tendon. He would have the chance to sign a nearly $200 million contract extension with the Brooklyn Nets during the Olympics, and he knew the Tokyo Games would come with draconian restrictions that make the whole experience as pleasant as week-old sushi.
But now as he flies out of Japan, his luggage will contain the souvenir that made it all worth it: yet another Olympic gold. His decision to ignore all of the arguments to take a summer vacation and play in his third Games anyway proved to be monumentally important.
The difference between the Americans and the rest of the world used to be an entire team of superstars. Now the narrow gap is filled by one skinny guy named Kevin.
“This is one of those special journeys that is hard to describe,” Durant said. “A lot of people said it was going to be tough for us to win. And to be honest, they really don’t matter.”