NBA Finals: Kevin Durant's dogged pursuit of title shows he's better than we thought

There was talk, even from this writer, that when Kevin Durant made the decision in a Hamptons hotel room last summer to join a 73-win juggernaut he was signing on to be a spot-up shooter. Stephen Curry was the team's shining star, the sun that the Warriors' universe revolved around. Curry was the unanimous, two-time reigning MVP. Durant was abandoning being the second-best player in the league to be a Harrison Barnes upgrade. 

It took about three weeks of Warriors basketball in this insane form to realize that was utter nonsense. Durant remains the second-best player in the league, and in winning the 2017 NBA Finals MVP after a 39-point performance in Golden State's 129-120 victory in Game 5 of the NBA Finals to give the Warriors a 4-1 series victory, has solidified his claim to the top spot he has so long strived for. 

If the Warriors are defined by their dominance, if Lebron James is defined by his supremacy, then Durant is defined by excellence. He has been an excellent NBA player since he stepped on the floor as an even skinnier kid 10 years ago. He has improved every season. He went from phenom to legit contender, to a player who no one can believe he is as good, in as many areas, as he is. Durant never stopped improving, and so his decision to join the Warriors should come as no surprise. He has looked for every way to be the best player he possibly can be every single season. 

It's that drive to improve, night by night, that led him to this moment. Does it feel organic? Does it feel real? Does it feel how it would have had he won it in Oklahoma City? Maybe not to fans outside the Bay. But consider how it feels to Kevin Durant. He has seen so many competitors hoist that Finals MVP trophy, drink that champagne, flash that ring. He has chased it with relentless focus. Kevin Durant doesn't have bad years. Kevin Durant doesn't have letdown seasons. He just gets better. 

He came up short. Time and time again, Durant wasn't there at the end. Russell Westbrook got injured. Durant himself went down with a foot injury. Serge Ibaka went down with an injury. He was so close, so often, and for a player that has wanted to be excellent every day, it burned. 

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Kevin Durant was the unanimous choice for the 2017 NBA Finals MVP. USATSI

So he got the best team he could, and now he's where he wanted to go. It doesn't matter how it makes the rest of the NBA, its fans or anyone else feel. Durant has dedicated his life to this moment. Monday night was about him. He loves this team, that's pretty clear, and for obvious reasons. (Who doesn't like winning all the time?) But Durant's unbridled joy when he claimed his first title and the Finals MVP on Monday was about validating his career. 

Think of what Durant has avoided. He will never be on the TNT set, riddled with jokes from his contemporaries about never winning a title. He'll never go down as that player who was excellent, but never champion. 

Durant has always approached the game the right way. This is important to recognize. He hasn't cheated the game for a moment. Durant is a scorer, but one that worked to be better in all phases. He never settled, he never big-timed his coach, never complained about a lack of firepower. 

Sure, he left the team that drafted him to find a team with more firepower, but that was his right, having earned that unrestricted free agency. Monday was the validation of that process. You can hate his decision, you can hate what it means for the league, you can question Durant's drive to take the hard way, but the truth is, Durant knows this is the hard way. In the NBA, to win a title, there are nothing but hard roads. Granted, this Warriors team might have had the easiest road in NBA history, but the point still stands.

Durant is a transcendent talent, who has worked to maximize every opportunity he has been given. He has taken every chance he could to try and reach this moment, and it's finally here. Few will walk away from this series and feel he's the best player in the world, but some will. And Durant won't care about that. He'll know his team is the best, and that he's the best player on that best team. 

And there's nothing that can define excellence better than that. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Moore's colleagues have been known to describe him as a "maniac" in terms of his approach to covering the NBA, which he has done for CBS Sports since 2010. Moore prides himself on melding reporting,... Full Bio

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