A French bar in the Carroll Gardens section of Kevin Durant’s
adopted home borough of Brooklyn seemed like the perfect spot to
watch Team USA go for the gold medal against France on Friday
night. There was just one problem.
“We will be closing at 11 p.m.,” the bartender said.
The city that never sleeps has become sleepy again because of
the Delta variant of the coronavirus, and a tavern near Barclays
Center had fewer than a dozen customers (along with a sign in the
window seeking bartenders and servers) on what would ordinarily be
a busy Friday night in the nation’s most populous city.
It made for a weird watching experience just a couple blocks
from where Durant will be back at work when the 2021-2022 NBA
season begins. But he has just given himself the means to build a
special trophy case for his third Olympic gold medal… If that is
what he so chooses to do with some of the $198 million he will be
getting from the Nets.
Still though, Durant and his American teammates did not return
to the Tokyo Hilton with gold medals after defeating France by a
final score of 87-82 in a very entertaining game in Saitama, Japan.
The medal ceremony had not yet taken place, and wouldn’t until
after the Australian national team defeated Slovenia in the bronze
medal game, 107-93.
Typically, the medal ceremony takes place after the gold medal
game, but, in these times, what is typical and what is functional
are two different things. And the question of what the American
players will be doing with their gold medals remained an open one
as the weekend began back in the United States.
Last month, there was a palpable sense of panic from some
corners of the basketball universe when the American men first got
together in Las Vegas. The club immediately proceeded to lose
glorified scrimmages against Nigeria and Australia.
A significant number of people in the United States seem intent
on pretending that the rest of the world had not caught up to
America in the global race to be a basketball powerhouse, so there
was a major reaction to those losses. To borrow an old quote from
coach Gregg Popovich, though, those people who don’t recognize that
the rest of the world is indeed catching up “must have been living
in a phone booth” for the past couple of decades.
The world caught up a long time ago, and what these Olympics
demonstrated was that the trick to success is peaking at the end,
not in training camp. Friday night (Saturday morning in Japan) was
the culmination of the American federation keeping its head down
and achieving its collective goal while being half-a-world away
from home and dealing with COVID-19 protocols and quarantining
rules. Team USA didn’t have the same opportunity to enjoy the host
country as previous teams did, nor were they able to go to other
sporting events at various venues and have a fairly unique life
Durant has done this three times, but his teammates were all
relative neophytes. Only Draymond Green had done this before,
winning gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. And for three
players who competed in the NBA Finals — Jrue Holiday, Devin Booker
and Khris Middleton — winning gold medals so soon after playing
four rounds of playoff basketball was a testament to their
collective desire to be the very best, not only in the NBA, but in
“You know what ‘sayonara’ means? That's how I’m
feeling right now,” Popovich joked after the gold medal game. “I
agree with these guys. Every championship is special, and the group
you’re with is special. But I can be honest and say this is the
most responsibility I’ve ever felt, because you’re playing for so
many people that are watching and for your country and other
countries involved. The responsibility was awesome, and I felt it
every day for several years now. I’m feeling pretty light now and
looking forward to getting back to the hotel and having
The French national team kept this one interesting right into
the final minute, staying within striking distance throughout the
second half. With 1:08 left in the contest, Team France found
themselves down just six points, 84-78. Holiday missed a step-back
three-pointer, but Evan Fournier missed a three-pointer at the
other end, as well. Durant grabbed one of his six rebounds and the
U.S. team was able to withstand Damian Lillard’s two missed free
throws with 23 seconds left. They were playing with just enough of
a cushion to achieve exactly what they set out to do, though, and
they were able to hang on.
The mission was accomplished.
“Getting in at one in the morning, me, Book and Khris, and then
playing that night against France, losing that game and then being
able to go through the rest of the tournament and then winning the
gold medal game…” Holiday said. “I don't know — I guess me thinking
about it, and me telling that story, man, that’s a hell of a
The countdown now begins to the Paris Olympics in 2024, and the
focus of the basketball world will turn to Las Vegas as NBA teams
begin preparing for the upcoming season with summer league. There
is very little time for anyone to exhale, and all that anyone
anywhere around the world can hope for going forward is a return to
some semblance of the normalcy we all knew before March 2020.
Durant will eventually be back inside Barclays Center and will
be flanked by bronze medalist Patty Mills of Australia, who scored
42 points to go along with nine assists against Slovenia in the
bronze medal game. With those two, the quest for the Nets’ first
NBA championship will begin anew.
Grant Hill will be taking over leadership of the U.S. basketball
federation from Jerry Colangelo, and before preparing for the Paris
Olympics, he will need to start making plans for the next FIBA
World Cup. The World Cup will be contested in the Philippines,
Japan and Indonesia in 2023.
We are still three years away from knowing whether Durant will
go for a fourth gold medal, but all American fans should hope that
he does. The guy showed an intense competitive desire throughout
the summer, despite the Nets’ excruciating loss to the eventual
champion Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the NBA
Can they get a different result if James Harden and Kyrie Irving
are healthy? Will folks in Brooklyn be able to attend the games
mask-free and enjoy something resembling a lively nightlife when
those games are concluded?
We shall see.
Players and coaches and employees of NBA teams that came through
New York last season to play the Nets and Knicks invariably had one
question upon seeing the empty streets: “Where are all the
They’re still around, just not out and about. Certainly, the
Tokyo Olympics — like life in general over the past year-and-a-half
— has been unlike anything we’ve experienced. What we can all learn
from Durant and company, though, is that the goal is to emerge
intact and accomplished. Quantifying those things remains a
personal challenge for everyone.
Hopefully, though, people can draw inspiration from their gold
“I remember we had a team meeting after the first game against
France, Pop wasn’t there,” Durant said of the opening game in which
he scored only 10 points and was in foul trouble.
“You know when you have a team meeting, you're kind of at the
bottom. So, we just worked our way up from there. Everybody just
committed to doing what’s best for the group, no matter what. It
was just amazing to see that clock run down to zero and us
celebrate like that and then celebrate in the locker room. It was
just incredible, man.”
Yes it was, KD.
Props to Team USA. Big time.