The Thunder's 2013-14 season was a wild roller-coaster of emotions with Westbrook's injury, four-point plays, overtimes aplenty, emotional speeches, Serge Ibaka's injury and on. The mileage Durant tacked on wasn't just about the raw number of minutes. It was about the complete investment of body and soul. The price of all that adds up, even for someone as durable and relentless as Durant. Mentally more than anything, the haul of doing your job 270-plus days straight is a draining, almost inhuman experience.
After the Thunder's Game 6 loss to the Spurs, Durant said this:
"If you're on the outside looking in, of course maybe it looks easy because you only see us on the court playing the games," he said. "But you don't see the second after the game is over with the things we do to prepare for the next game. The emotional and physical toll it takes on you when you go home at night, the practices you go through to get prepared, the travel, taking time away from your family to play a game you love to try and win a championship. Guys on the outside don't see that."
And he was all set to give up almost two months of the only respite he'll get before it starts all over again. Can you blame him?
Durant's decision to withdraw from the World Cup isn't about one thing. It isn't just about the lingering fear from George's horrific injury. It isn't just about Nike and Under Armour dueling for his signature. It isn't just about the minutes that add up and hang on your legs like toddlers in May and June. It's about the price that comes with playing and the potential benefits of not.
Durant has never really said no to basketball. The game has always been in charge, always made decisions for him. And maybe, for the first time, he's putting his own body and mind ahead of it.