Why did Kevin Durant play Monday night?
After missing several games with a "strained calf," the Golden State Warriors star took the court in Toronto for the fifth game of the NBA finals. During his absence, the defending champion Warriors had fallen behind the Raptors three games to one.
After a promising first quarter, Durant's right leg again crumpled, not from a leap or a fast break, but a delicate feint and dribbling maneuver. As feared, Durant suffered a torn Achilles tendon, a career-threatening injury.
Without their sharp-shooting star, the Warriors eked out a 106-105 win over the Raptors to head back to Oakland for another game in ancient Oracle Arena, to be abandoned next year for a gilded palace in San Francisco. As the news of Durant's injury spread, the Warriors' mood turned mournful rather than joyous.
Before the game, mystery had shrouded Durant's not playing as the Warriors fell behind the Raptors and their splendid Kawhi Leonard.
Durant didn't sit on the team bench during games, remaining in the locker room. The media and fans expressed doubts about Durant's injury, questioning his courage. Even the sports media veteran Tony Kornheiser joined in, using the regrettable "Phantom of the Opera" tag on his "Pardon the Interruption" show.
The media-sensitive Durant likely heard the criticism before deciding to play. The Warriors' medical staff and management apparently pushed him into taking the court. The Warriors' Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevon Looney had returned to competition after being sidelined by injuries.
Cousins, who had come back from an Achilles injury similar to Durant's and then a thigh injury, appeared particularly upset by Durant's loss.
Toronto's increasingly boorish fans initially applauded when Durant left the court. Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, who kept a cool head earlier in the series when pushed by an idiot Warriors fan seated courtside in Oakland, quieted the fans, who then gave their support to the crippled foe.
Once again, sports echoes the society at large. Durant makes millions a year, but now looks like another exploited worker. The Warriors' lack of transparency added to the media pressure for Durant to play, even if he wasn't ready.
One of the most fragile looking of sports stars, Durant felt compelled to carry out masculine expectations of courage and performance. The specter of white fans taking pleasure at a black player's injury presented a disturbing image.
The Warriors' Steph Curry and the Raptors' Lowry and Serge Ibaka displayed grace. These days, that seems rarer and rarer.