Kevin Durant left tonight’s Game 5 of the NBA Finals after suffering an injury to the same right leg that has kept him out of the playoffs for more than a month.
As I’m writing this, it’s not known what Durant’s new injury is, or if it’s at all related to his previous injury.
But his coming back from injury at potentially less than 100 percent is a real-time example a key tenant of The Sport Ethic, the worldview of elite athletes as detailed by sociologists Jay Coakley and Robert Hughes. From their work:
Being an athlete involves accepting risks and playing through pain... The idea is that athletes never back down from challenges in the form of either physical risk or pressure, and that standing up to challenges involves moral courage.
The “athlete playing hurt” frame is one of the most common storylines in sports. If there were a Sports Tropes website, it would be at the top of the list. There’s no surer way for an athlete to enter the pantheon than to play hurt, especially in a championship series. And there was this excellent reporting from Sam Amick in The Athletic.
At the very least, Durant’s absence that began back on May 8 is causing a mixture of confusion and angst among several of his teammates that simply can’t be helpful to their overall cause. Sources say there was a very real hope that Durant would be able to play in Game 4, to push through in much the same way that Thompson, Cousins, Iguodala and Looney have done of late. When that didn’t happen, and when they saw their season compromised more than ever without him after they’d grown hopeful of his return after seeing him on the court, the irritation grew in large part because they simply didn’t understand why he wasn’t there..
It’s this backdrop, this belief in The Sport Ethic, that frames Durant’s decision to play and his injury on Monday night.