OAKLAND — Kyrie Irving missed a jumper with a minute left, Draymond Green grabbed the rebound and, with 55 seconds on the clock, Kevin Durant bent over in disbelief and staggered toward the ABC broadcast booth around midcourt, his back turned to the ongoing action.
The Warriors were up 11. The title was sealed. But a minimum of three possessions remained before the coronation could begin.
“Keep playing until the end!” Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green pleaded to Durant.
“But, bro, we’re about to win the title!” Durant screamed back.
It’s a moment he envisioned forever. It’s a situation he nearly tasted in 2012. It’s a feeling that agonizingly eluded him in the years that would follow. But for months, with this Warriors’ megateam, he has sensed its inevitable arrival. For the past few days, as they spiked up 3-0 in these Finals, it felt like a sure thing.
But there’s a huge difference in knowing it’s going to happen and actually experiencing it. You can imagine the feeling, but you can’t fill in the details. So here are the details, the behind-the-scenes look at Kevin Durant’s first three hours as an NBA champion, filled with strange cameos, pure emotion and plenty of booze.
“It’s like I’m in a dream,” Durant said. “But I’m wide awake.”
The game ended around 8:40 p.m. local time in Oakland. With 14 seconds left, Iguodala shoveled the ball over to Durant. The Finals MVP dribbled out the clock, raised his arms and then circled right into a congratulatory hug from LeBron James.
Five years back, it had been the other way around — a defeated Durant hugging LeBron on the court after LeBron’s first title. “He reciprocated that,” Durant said. “I got nothing but love and respect for him.”
Just a few seconds later, the court around Durant and LeBron had flooded with cameras and family members and NBA workers and random faces. His mother arrived for an embrace. He did a quick on-court interview with ABC, then hopped on stage for the trophy ceremony.
Now past 9 p.m., the Warriors finally rampaged back to the locker room for the champagne celebration, all the players handed a Moet & Chandon bottle on their way through the door. Durant was met by a dancing Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, already geared up in ski goggles, bottles popped, spraying the room.
But Durant had some trouble. He struggled to get the bottle open initially. Then he failed in his attempt to bash a couple beer cans together for a booze shower, Stone Cold Steve Austin style. It’d been awhile since he’d had a drink. Nearly four months, actually.
Throughout most of the season, Durant regularly went out after games, often drinking with dinner. But when he sprained his MCL back in late February, he decided to give up alcohol during the extended rehab process.
“If I had been drinking as much as I had been drinking, the recovery wouldn’t have been as easy,” Durant said. “So I decided to put it down and once I got back healthy, I was like let me see how this is, let me roll with it for the rest of the playoffs.”
So by the time Monday night’s celebration rolled around, his tolerance was lower and the booze hit quicker. The PR staff whisked him away from the locker room celebration around 9:25, first to do an interview with Scott Van Pelt on SportsCenter and then to his press conference on the other side of the arena.
He arrived there around 9:45. Steve Kerr was still talking at the podium. For five minutes, Durant, only an hour removed from one of the pinnacle moments of his life and now a bit tipsy, was forced to stay quiet in the back. It was tough. He squirmed and whispered and laughed with Tom Aube, his trusted security guard. Then it was his turn on the podium.
Durant started off gruffly. “Let’s get this over with,” he said on his way to the stage. But then he was reflective and long-winded, ending his 12 minutes at the podium by telling assembled reporters: “I’m talking too much at this point,” Durant said. “I had a couple too many beers.”
It was now past 10 p.m. local time. Durant was ushered back onto the Oracle floor for his car wash of media responsibilities. First it was a hit with Good Morning America. Then it was over to the NBA TV studio, planted right around the spot he’d hugged LeBron 90 minutes earlier. Then it was a diagonal walk across the court for an interview with CBS.
But he was stopped along the way twice: First by CNN for a few brief questions and then by actor turned NBA comedian Michael Rapaport. Moments earlier, after gathering some of the yellow confetti, Rapaport threw it in the air — like a LeBron chalk toss — before yelling: “Cleveland!!! This is for you!!” Then he spotted Durant and beelined for him, with a message: “You busted their ass,” Rapaport told Durant. “I’m so glad you busted their ass.”
Durant laughed. Then he finished the walk toward the CBS interview. “Last one?” he asked. Nope, a PR staffer told him. He still had two quick questions from ESPN’s Rachel Nichols and then a local hit with CSN. “But I haven’t even cut my (ankle) tape off yet,” he said. It was 10:15 p.m., now 95 minutes after the game.
As Durant talked to Nichols, his security guard, Tom Aube, emerged from the locker room with Durant’s cell phone, which he hadn’t seen in an hour, and a huge wooden cigar box that had ‘Kevin Durant’ carved in cursive on the front. Nine 1881 Manila cigars were left inside. They were for this moment. Steph Curry would snag one a bit later because, well, you can’t pass up a cigar that’s more than a century old.
After the quick CSN hit, Aube cut off all interviews — and there were so many others trying to sneak a quick sound bite — ushering Durant down the tunnel and toward the locker room. It was 10:31 p.m. When he left the party an hour earlier, it was just getting started. By the time he returned, drunk destruction.
A warning for what awaited came about 10 minutes earlier. As Durant was talking to Rapaport on the court, David West had stormed out of the locker room, down the tunnel and rumbled past them, determined to get a picture with Steve Smith, who was working live on the NBA TV set. “I got to get a picture with my vet!” he yelled at Smith, interrupting the segment to pull him off the set.
There’s a workout space adjacent to the Warriors’ locker room. When Durant arrived back there, JaVale McGee was on the treadmill, in a full out sprint, as a few of his teammates cheered him on. Mike Brown was drilling out a plate of food. Team execs were watching a replay of the game. Durant was originally supposed to clean up quick and then head down the hallway for pictures. But he remained in there partying with teammates for 20 more minutes.
Durant eventually emerged at 10:51 p.m., having only cut off his ankle tape and switched from shoes to sandals. “I might not ever get dressed tonight,” he said. His family and friends gathered and then walked together down the tunnel that connects Oracle and the Coliseum, heading for the Oakland A’s batting cage, where pictures with the trophy were taking place.
On the way, Durant bumped into the Curry family, who gave hugs and congratulations. A few others did the same. “Just a kid from D.C.,” someone yelled. “The DMV,” he yelled back. Then just as he reached the A’s side of the complex, a random guy in a beige suit with a black eye got his attention. He pointed at his injury and said something about getting punched. “But that’s why I have the other eye,” he said. It was strange. A few steps later, Durant turned to one of his friends, comprehending the weirdness: “Yo, I’m drunk as (expletive) right now.”
It was 10:54 and finally time for pictures. He started solo, taking a few with both trophies. Then one with his mother. Then with his mother and brother. Then with his whole family. Bob Myers was next. Then it was NBA legend Bill Russell, whose name is attached to the Finals MVP trophy.
“This is epic, man,” Durant said.
The entire Curry family arrived in the picture room. Durant and Steph quickly started taking pictures together. “Two-time. There’s the two-time champ,” Durant said to him. As the pair snapped a few, Russell got in the middle. Off to the side, their mothers — Sonya Curry and Wanda Durant — locked eyes. “Oh, we’ve got to take a picture together,” Wanda told her. So they just hopped right in with Russell and their sons by their side. Durant beamed through it all.
“To see him this happy, so peaceful,” his business parter and close friend Rich Kleiman said, pointing across the room at Durant. “He’s never looked happier in his life. Anyone that knows him, knows this is the happiest I’ve ever seen this man in my life. Happier than I ever thought he could be. I always say Kevin is one of those people when he gets to a mountaintop, he’s always looking for that next thing. I always want him to sit back and enjoy the hard work and everything he’s done in his career to this point. Tonight, you can see that he’s stopping and focusing on where he’s gotten and how much work he put in.”
Durant exited the batting cage at 11:14 p.m. His brother, Tony, was intent on getting a keepsake. “Let me get your jersey,” Tony said, grabbing at the tag. “Nah, I’m keeping my jersey,” Kevin said. A Warriors’ team camera crew documented his walk back to the locker room. They asked him to give one word to describe this moment.
“Angelic,” Durant said. “It almost feels like the angels were singing as time was running down.”
He arrived back to another mob scene at 11:16, this time fewer people but still rowdy, led by a departing Zaza Pachulia. Most of the players were gone by now, but Durant and Curry had still yet to shower and change. Durant finished up first, exiting the locker room at 11:33, his brother Tony behind him with Durant’s game-worn shoes in hand. Tony finally had his keepsake.
Before he left, Durant said some final goodbyes to the Currys. Ayesha asked about the chili she’d made for him and Steph. “Oh, it was fire,” Durant said. She asked if he was going to meet them out. He said he was. His security guard differed: “He needs some sleep.”
At 11:38, they finally dragged Durant toward the exit. On the way, he saw Joe Lacob and, like Curry, he called the owner “two-time” for his two titles. “This night’s yours,” Lacob said. “Just trying to be like you,” Durant replied.
He finally reached the parking lot at 11:40, three full hours after winning the title. “Oh, is that Kevin Durant, can I get your autograph?” a voice called from 20 feet away. It was Ron Adams. Durant turned and laughed at his coach. “I’ll give it to you tomorrow,” he joked. Adams then pointed up the hill.
About 300 die-hard Warrior fans remained, circling around the exit of the player’s lot about 100 yards away and having just spotted their 7-foot megastar in a pink shirt with a martini glass on the back.
“MVP! MVP! MVP!” they yelled.
He acknowledged them and then tucked into the front passenger seat of his Tesla. Two minutes later, the crew started toward the exit. His car neared the crowd. They erupted. So Durant got out, raised his Finals MVP trophy in the air like Simba and walked directly into a gathering mosh pit. He’d only been an NBA champ for three hours, but he’d enjoyed every second of it.