Kevin Durant was never a sure thing to join the U.S. Olympic team for this summer’s Tokyo Games, especially in light of a difficult 2020-21 season for him both on and off the court.
Ultimately, the Brooklyn Nets star elected to join the squad, but Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich would have gone to desperate lengths had he decided against it.
“Well, first of all, if he said ‘no,’ I would have begged, cried, anything I could to change his mind,” Popovich said Tuesday during the first day of Team USA camp, per the New York Post. “That’s pretty obvious. But what it says about him, number one, is that he loves the game. He really loves to play basketball. He loves to win. He loves the camaraderie.
“He wants to be part of this all the time, as we all know. And that’s his motivation at the core. That’s what he loves to do. And luckily for all of us, that’s who he is. So it’s a testament to his character and just desire to be part of a team and have a challenge and seek the success.”
Despite the uncertainty concerning Durant’s decision on the Olympics, Team USA CEO Jerry Colangelo said after the fact that the superstar’s commitment “didn’t surprise” him in the end. Just as unsurprising is how Team USA celebrated Durant’s arrival at camp on Tuesday.
As laid out in the above tweet, Durant has left a remarkable imprint upon U.S. Olympic basketball. A three-time participant in the Summer Games, Durant has won two gold medals (2012, 2016) and enjoys an undefeated 39-0 record as a member of the U.S. squad in both FIBA and Olympic events.
Footage of Durant taking the court for a practice session also landed on social media.
Kevin Durant at the Team USA Practice session pic.twitter.com/jgUZEHp2Cu— 2Cool2Blog (@2Cool2BIog) July 7, 2021
Durant joins an elite group of American basketball stars with his inclusion on this year’s team. The 32-year-old is set to join Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and David Robinson as the only players who have competed in three or more Olympics.
Coming off recovery from an Achilles injury, Durant appeared in only 35 regular-season games for the Nets. Thigh and hamstring injuries — not to mention a stint off the court due to COVID-19 protocols — hampered Durant’s 2020-21 campaign in a season when injuries to Kyrie Irving and James Harden further short-circuited the Nets’ championship aspirations. A shorthanded Brooklyn squad ultimately bowed out with a seven-game series loss to eventual NBA Finals-bound Milwaukee Bucks in the second round.
Now, Durant’s focus turns to securing a third gold medal in Olympic play. It goes without saying that Team USA is grateful he’s aboard.