Kevin Durant said he is “bonded for life” with his US team-mates after they beat France to win basketball gold Saturday, ensuring the Brooklyn Nets star joined all-time great Carmelo Anthony with a third Olympic title.
The 32-year-old has been the backbone of the team for a decade, scoring more Olympic points than any player in US men’s basketball history, and he was again the standout against France.
He drilled 29 points to go with the 30 he bagged in the 2012 final against Spain and 30 in the 2016 decider against Serbia, reinforcing his incredible consistency.
In doing so, he became the first American player to score more than 100 points in three different Olympics, accumulating 124 in Japan.
“When you are part of a team that is evolving by the second, it’s just amazing to see. Every game we continued to grow,” he said, after the US were stunned in their opening group game by France.
“It’s just that journey that is so important, you realise. You finish the job and get the gold medal, but when you go through that journey, man, it is just so special.
“I am bonded with these guys for life, it’s a family for life. I am grateful we all committed to this (Olympics) early and finished it off.”
Durant, who is poised to sign a four-year, $198 million contract extension with the Nets, according to his manager, scored 21 of his points Saturday in the first half.
He was quieter in the fourth term until he drained a pair of crucial free throws with eight seconds left.
Durant said he was reluctant to compare the gold medal in Japan with his previous two “because everything is its own memory”.
“But this is one of those special journeys that is hard to describe,” he added.
“Each one of us put in that work every single day. From the coaches, to the trainers, to the players.
“We all came in with the goal of let’s finish this thing off, let’s build a family, let’s build a team, let’s finish this thing off.”
US coach Gregg Popovich said he was “totally frozen” when his team won, calling it “an out of body experience when you are in those kinds of games”.
“Every championship is special, every group is special, but I can be honest and say this the most responsibility I’ve ever felt, because you’re playing for so many people that are watching it for your country,” he said.
Popovich had special praise for Durant, whose experience proved vital to taking home the title.
“The relationships he builds with team-mates, the respect he garners, the joy he has in playing is like osmosis. It goes into all the other players,” he said.
“That sort of love of the game and of people is what makes him more special as a player.”