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Kevin Durant, Warriors ring in a new season

Potential game-winning shot against Rockets is waved off, but nothing would spoil this night for the Finals MVP

OAKLAND, California — Kevin Durant kept moving back and forth during the Golden State Warriors’ championship ring ceremony to keep his long legs warm, and also because he was eager to finally get the hardware.

Ten long NBA seasons were now in the books. Suddenly the words “Kevin Durant” were heard over the loudspeaker at Oracle Arena to a roar from nearly 20,000 fans on Tuesday night. The 2017 NBA Finals MVP hugged NBA commissioner Adam Silver before finally getting the championship ring handed to him by Warriors co-owners Joe Lacob and Pete Guber. Durant slowly walked away with a smile while staring at the ring that was 11 carats in total weight, with 36 blue sapphires, 31 white trapezoid diamonds and 83 pave stones.

“I wanted to stay loose for the game,” Durant said after the Warriors lost the season opener, 122-121, to the Houston Rockets. “But I was excited to get it. It was incredible. You think about your family and how hard it was to get to this point to the NBA. And then to be champions is even harder.

“[The ring] says my name on it, my family name. It’s just something you see all the time with all the greats showing their rings off. Anybody who has won a ring in any sport, you see a lot of guys walking around with their rings, so to be in their company is pretty cool. I got one now. I can tell my stories about what it was like. That’s the good part.”

Durant scored 20 points against the Rockets but was scoreless in the fourth quarter as the Warriors were outscored 34-20. He attempted a shot at the buzzer that went in for a possible game-saving win, but the referees waved it off. While Durant would’ve preferred a victory, the loss didn’t shade the shine of the “very, very special” moment of receiving his first championship ring.

One person who was not missing Tuesday’s ceremony was Durant’s father, Wayne Pratt, who flew in from Baltimore.

Pratt celebrated with his son when the Warriors won the 2017 NBA Finals by ending the series here in Game 5 over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Durant’s father truly cherished the ring ceremony because he remembered his son losing in his only other Finals appearance. Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden made their first Finals after leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to the 2012 Western Conference championship, but LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat went on to defeat the Thunder in five games in the Finals.

Pratt said his son and every player on the Thunder had a “tear in their eye” after losing to Cleveland in 2012. Pratt added that he had to witness his son getting his championship ring because making it back to the Finals is not promised.

“I know how hard it was for him to get there and lose it, so I had to be there to see this. I wanted to see the smile on his face after seeing the disappointment. And he got there,” Pratt said.

Durant said: “I just wanted to get back there and win. When we were playing in the [2012] Finals, you’re enjoying the moment more than anything, realizing that this doesn’t come every year. There were five years before I got back. From 2012-17, I had not been to the Finals. So I just learned more than anything to stay in the moment and not worry about anything else but playing.”

That next Finals chance for Durant came with the Warriors. He received ridicule for leaving the Thunder to get there.

Durant and the Thunder lost to the Warriors in a deciding Game 7 in the 2016 Western Conference finals. A little over a month later, Durant shocked Oklahoma City on the Fourth of July by announcing he was departing to the Warriors, of all teams. The hate understandably came from Thunder fans. But it also came from other sports fans and the media.

The pressure put Durant in championship-or-bust mode.

“It was something I had to get used to, for sure,” Durant said of his haters. “After a while, I got comfortable with it and just went out and played. At the end of the day, you still have to be able to play the game.”

The Warriors and Durant got on the same page offensively after a Christmas loss last season at Cleveland, coach Steve Kerr said. Fellow All-Star teammate Stephen Curry got back to playing on an MVP level. Durant, Curry and the Warriors entered their 60th game at Washington with 50 wins. But in a flash, Golden State’s championship hopes were in jeopardy when Durant suffered an ACL knee strain and bone bruise on Feb. 28 against the Wizards.

Durant didn’t play again until April 8, which was the third-to-last game of the regular season.

“That was a little tough to deal with injuries that late in the season,” Durant said. “But my teammates rallied behind me. They had my back the whole way, and the training staff did a great job. I was able to move on from that and help us win.”

Warriors general manager Bob Myers said that injury scare is often forgotten in talk about Durant’s road to his first championship. He added that he was glad Durant not only got the ring but also lost the pressure of not having one.

Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors receives his 2017 NBA championship ring from team owner Joe Lacob prior to their game against the Houston Rockets at ORACLE Arena on Oct. 17 in Oakland, California.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

“I’m glad he’s getting a ring,” Myers said before the game. “He earned it. It would have been sad if he had not gotten one and didn’t check that box. He’s too good of a player. Sometimes great players never get that opportunity. Players in this day and age, I feel like there is such pressure that it has to happen for them.

“Sometimes it’s not their fault. But to see him obtain that pretty early, I think he has a lot of years left. I’m really happy for him.”

Durant was back in All-Star form by the time the Warriors returned to the Finals for the third straight season against Cleveland. He averaged 35.2 points, 8 rebounds and 5.4 assists in the series and scored 39 points in the 129-120 Game 5 clinching win over the Cavaliers. Durant’s most notable play of the Finals was hitting a game-winning 3-pointer over James in Game 3 in Cleveland. The shot is immortalized in a mural at the Warriors’ practice facility.

“He had a tremendous Finals,” Myers said. “I mean, an all-time Finals. I’m biased. But if you go back in history of the Finals, I don’t know if that shouldn’t be in the top five or top 10 shots because that arguably could have changed the series. If that doesn’t go in, who knows?

“For him to take it. For him to make it. Sometimes things in life just line up for you.”

All those memories surely came back for Durant, the Warriors, the fans and his loved ones when he finally put on his ring. Durant’s mother, Wanda, brother Tony, The Durant Co. CEO Rich Kleiman and longtime friend Randy Williams also were there to witness the significant moment in his NBA career.

“You take time to reflect on your whole life to that point,” Durant said. “It’s good to see my mom, my brother and my dad and my friends here who support me. It’s amazing.”

Pratt said he was “really proud” because of the strong work ethic that Durant used to learn the game of basketball since age 2.

“Twenty years from now when he is sitting down with his kids, he is going to tell them the struggles he had to get it,” Pratt said. “When you’re in the top 1 percent in the world at what you do, not many people can say that. To go on the biggest stage to become MVP and win [the title], that’s huge. I’m just proud. I’m just really proud.”

Where will Durant’s championship ring go?

“It probably will go back in my trophy case back home [in Maryland],” Durant said with a smile. “I got a nice trophy case with all my awards dating back to when I was in grade school. It’s cool to see the journey from there till now.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.