On May 8, Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant suffered a non-contact injury to his right leg during Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets. Durant’s body language—he pulled up suddenly while running, seemingly taken aback—called to mind how other basketball players have reacted to tearing an Achilles tendon. The Warriors, however, announced that Durant had strained his calf and could potentially play again before the end of the season. On Monday night, with the Warriors trailing the Toronto Raptors 3–1 in the NBA Finals, Durant returned to the court, scoring 11 points in 12 minutes on the floor. In the second quarter, though, he pulled up awkwardly, limped into a seated position, and then left the game, having sustained what the Warriors say is a (new) Achilles injury—reportedly a tear—to his right leg. Achilles tears can require up to a year of recovery time and have created permanent limitations for some older players. (Durant will be 31 in September.)
In sum, this is the worst possible outcome for Durant. So whose fault is it?
1. The Warriors’ medical staff. After the 2018 season, the Warriors’ “head of physical performance and sports medicine” Chelsea Lane left the organization, reportedly because she wanted to be paid more than the team was willing to spend. Her replacement, Rick Celebrini, has an “impressive resume” and came recommended by team consultant Steve Nash, whom Celebrini worked with while Nash was becoming a two-time MVP in his 30s. But ESPN’s Rachel Nichols reported after Monday’s game that according to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, team doctors said that Durant “couldn’t get more hurt” by returning to action. Unless Durant’s right Achilles injury was completely unrelated to his right calf injury, it would appear that either the doctors were wrong or Kerr didn’t understand them correctly. (A doctor employed by another team told Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck that, as one might imagine, the calf injury could have made Durant more susceptible to hurting his Achilles. Incidentally, another Warriors forward, Kevon Looney, reaggravated an earlier injury on Monday.)
2. The Warriors’ management. Given the above, there has been speculation that nonmedical personnel in the Warriors organization knew that Durant’s May 8 injury put his Achilles in jeopardy but downplayed the danger in what was either a dishonest or delusional effort to convince themselves—and Durant—that it was reasonable for him to play again. Here’s what Warriors general manager Bob Myers said after Monday’s game: “The initial injury was a calf injury. This is not a calf injury. I’m not a doctor—I don’t know how those are related or not. But it’s a different injury.” Myers tearfully defended the “collaborative decision” to clear Durant to play, describing it as a “thorough” process conducted by “good people,” and said that he took ultimate responsibility for it though he did not believe that anyone was “to blame” for its outcome. Myers also attacked “the people who questioned whether [Durant] wanted to get back to this team,” which leads us to …
3. The press (and Draymond Green). Green was suspended by the Warriors earlier this season for reportedly calling Durant a “bitch.” On June 7, popular Bay Area sports writer Tim Kawakami likewise called Durant’s personal fortitude into question in an Athletic column about the calf injury. While Kawakami said that he did not have any inside information about the extent of Durant’s injury or Durant’s response thereto, he also wrote that it was “unclear” whether Durant had “fought to get back into action” and urged readers to “ask” whether the Warriors would “still be waiting” for the likes of Green, Looney, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, or Andre Iguodala to return if they’d suffered the same calf problem. A different Athletic writer, meanwhile, cited “sources” in reporting that Durant’s teammates had felt “irritation” after he practiced before Game 4 but did not play. Durant is famously sensitive to criticism, and perhaps the swirling questions about his toughness motivated him to return prematurely.
4. You, the narrative-loving sports fan. It’s not just writers who celebrate athletes who play hurt. The Knicks’ Willis Reed—who played 27 minutes in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals with a badly torn thigh muscle—became immortal by putting his health at risk for the sake of his team. Durant knows who Willis Reed is, and he knows sports heroes don’t sit out Game 5 of the NBA Finals with a “strain.” (Jalen Rose had a good riff on this idea on ESPN, noting that the people who are now looking for a culprit to blame for Durant’s injury are in many cases the same ones who were excited to see him put his leg at risk for the sake of an inspirational storyline on Monday. Guilty!)
5. Durant and his personal representatives. No one forced Durant to play on Monday, and the people with the ultimate formal responsibility for protecting his health and career interests are Durant and his agent (Rich Kleiman). He could’ve told the team that, as the only person who knows what his own body feels like, he was not comfortable on the floor. (Of course, personally making the call to sit out would’ve invited even more pressure and criticism, as Durant no doubt knows from following the story of the lingering quadriceps injury that ultimately destroyed the relationship between Toronto star Kawhi Leonard and his previous team, the San Antonio Spurs.)
6. Nobody. This is Bob Myers’ position, and one that Deadspin has latched onto as well. Maybe Durant and the Warriors followed every guideline for diagnosing and rehabbing an injured calf, made an informed decision to assume a certain amount of risk of further injury in exchange for the increased likelihood of achieving a professional goal, and simply rolled the wrong number on the dice.
Obviously I’m kidding about that last one. Someone needs to take the fall here, perhaps the venture capital jerk who pushed Kyle Lowry. Ban him again?