To be forgotten. We can be at peace with almost every aspect of death, but a life erased is an immovable concept. Finding ourselves unable to imagine that we will live and nothing of our lives will hold significance for anyone else, we spend inordinate amounts of time obsessing over the legacies of those who we will remember after they die. To leave a mark is the closest any of us will ever come to living forever, and the sporting world holds tight to the criteria for this most prestigious honor.
At one point in time, a legacy was tied directly to victory. Whoever had the most championships and individual awards had lived a life worth remembering. But success as the penultimate requirement for eternal memorialization became too dull. Too disconnected from the hardships we endure. So we tacked on. You still had to win, but you had to do it with the maximum amount of pain and discomfort possible. If we are to crown the sports icon with this form of immortality, they need to meet the conditions of our own miseries. Suffering. Unhappiness. Success despite incompetence. Those who win but do so by joining with friends or like-minded coworkers fail the litmus test. Championships acquired via joining a team already on the precipice of greatness will leave you on the outside looking in, or, even worse, it will drop you headfirst into the whirlpool with the rest of us. Those who are doomed to be fundamentally unremarkable.
I am not entirely sure what moved me about the performance of Kevin Durant and James Harden on Saturday night. It was a semi-conference game in the aftermath of a year in which six hundred thousand Americans died. Who really gives a shit. I do know that it was directly correlated to the natural order of Saturday becoming Sunday and this particular Sunday being Father’s Day. The reality that my dad’s legacy will only be what exists in the hearts of those who knew and loved him. It was also, however, impacted by confusion. I could not- can not- understand why both men played every minute of that game in the face of serious risk to their health. They played despite knowing that their ultimate goal of a championship this year was impossible, even with a victory. Durant and Harden have long experienced the absurdity of our infatuation with legacies. They are not ignorant to the fact that regardless of Saturday night’s outcome- win, loss, injury- the narrative of who we believe them to be and who we believe they should be remembered as would not change. Kevin Durant nearly lost his career rushing back to a basketball court in an attempt to rewrite the existing chapters of who we will tell our children he was. And nothing changed in its aftermath. No one blotted a single callous word.
Still, he played Saturday night in a situation that quickly crept into deja vu. What could have motivated him and Harden to disregard the impossibility of convincing the world you deserve to be remembered and find a more significant reason to hoop at the highest level? Maybe they recognized what we consistently ignore. Your legacy is built in the micro-moments; calling a friend when you said you would. The five am airport drop off. Showing up for teammates in the face of inevitable surrender. Kevin Durant played until his body betrayed him, unable to push the ball close enough to its intended target to even hit the rim in what was not among the ten most important games of his career. I do not know why he put himself through that or what it says about him, but I know it is worth exploring. Both of their legacies may never match our desperate need to make immortality as complicated a process as possible. Still, I imagine that moment cemented their legacy for those they care to be remembered by. At the end of the day, that’s the best any of us can ever hope for.