â€œExcuse me sir, are you Mr. Kevin Durant?â€
â€œThe same Kevin Durant that chucked a game winning three-pointer with ample time left on the clock from Europe?â€
â€œWhat about it?â€
â€œYouâ€™ve just been served.â€
Ouch. Always embarrassing when that happens in public.
Albeit, Durant came within minutes of turning these Western Conference Finals into anybodyâ€™s game â€“ a 2-2 series with the â€œbeen-there, done-thatâ€ Dallas Mavericks.
But they didnâ€™t, and crumbled in the clutch. Not once, not twice, but three times.
With a 15-point lead and 5:01 to play in a decisive game four, Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunderâ€™s lead wilted away as Dirk Nowitzki eviscerated them with his cerebral attack on the other end of the floor.
10 minutes later â€“ after being pushed, shoved, flattened and ridden out of his comfort zone by the hardy defense of Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd â€“ Durant sat slumped in his locker room chair, with only an inestimable amount of @mentions and text messages to console him.
Nothing could comfort the two-time NBA scoring champion on this night. On this night, he needed to do more than just score.
This is the type of hurt that will take a long summer to get over.
â€œThatâ€™s me, looking for an autograph, some shoes?â€
â€œYes, sign here on the bottom line. Youâ€™ve been served.â€
The heat was on Tuesday night in Miami, and with the Bulls in a must-win spot, they melted.
Derrick Rose and the Bulls are going to remember this loss for a long time, and not just because they lost, but because of how they lost.
Theyâ€™re going to remember how hard they fought and how much sweat they expended, but most of all, how many times they gave the game away.
On a night when Derrick Rose declared he must be more assertive, and Dwayne Wade playing inexplicably bad, Rose had the opening he needed.
As astoundingly fast as he is, he couldnâ€™t run through it.
The only imprint Rose was able to leave in Miami was the word â€œSpaldingâ€ on Joel Anthonyâ€™s forehead after a crowd-arousing dunk.
The morning headlines read differently.
Iâ€™ve never been a strong believer in the corollary between numbers and success when it comes to basketball.
There are so many intricacies to the game that they cannot all be accounted for and measured effectively by a mere statistic.
But with the Thunder eliminated and the Bulls unlikely to overcome a 3-1 deficit, a few jump out.
Nobody is going to beat the 103 and 92 years of experience, respectively, of the nine-man playoff rotations of the Mavericks and Heat with inefficient and immature play.
Nobody is going to beat the collective hunger of those 18 men and those 195 years of experience with only two titles to show for with careless protection of the basketball.
Iâ€™m talking about the 8-27 and 0-3 shooting in overtime that Derrick Rose shot, and the staggering nine turnovers by Kevin Durant in their own must-win situations.
â€œIt really was my fault, but Iâ€™m going to learn from it,â€ Rose said after the game.
â€œI didnâ€™t know what else to do,â€ Durant solemnly stated.
These are the kinds of lessons in sports that canâ€™t be taught, only experienced.
The playoffs expose a teams strengths and flaws, and itâ€™s clear that these young Thunder and Bulls arenâ€™t a finished product.
Mind you, the average age of the Thunder is 23.7 years old. The table below proves that winning is a logical function of age.
From this past summerâ€™s world championships to a berth in the NBA Conference Finals, Rose and Durant have experienced a meteoric rise into a sphere of otherworldly NBA allure.
But not even they â€“ as gifted and talented as they are â€“ can skip steps.
Ask LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki, both of whom have endured years of punishment and unjust criticism during their career-long quest for a championship.
We were foolish to think in February and March with the Heat and Mavericks floundering, and the Bulls and Thunder surging, that nothing would change come playoff time.
What makes Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant more capable than LeBron James was at the ripe age of 22?
Nothing, nada, bagel, goose egg.
Trials and tribulations are transportation for where you want to go.
The Pistons beat down Jordan for years before he claimed his spot atop the throne. Tim Duncan experienced postseason heartbreak on several occasions on his way to becoming a four-time champion. Even Kobe â€“ the best player of our generation â€“ went through his fair share of hardships before winning two post-Shaq titles.
And now, Rose and Durant â€“ leaders of the new-age NBA â€“ are learning it the hard way.
The incredible amount of talent in the NBA right now has begun to cause confusion between great players and great leaders.
Rose and Durant are great players but not yet great leaders.
Theyâ€™re not ready to be hated. Taking the blame is not leadership, its avoiding conflict.
Leadership is about conflict management. Blaming yourself is the easy way out. Sure, its humble and honorable, but youâ€™ll be watching the finals from home.
Michael Jordan punched teammates. Are Jordan and Pippen buddy-buddy off the court? Far from it, but theyâ€™ve got six rings.
This isnâ€™t to say Rose and Durant will never win. Theyâ€™re just not ready.
Notwithstanding, they both had terrific seasons. For the record, you donâ€™t have to win everything to have a successful life. You donâ€™t have to be the funniest comedian to be a successful comedian.
But to be the best, you have to put your time in. Ask Jordan, ask Kobe, ask LeBron, ask Dirk.
You donâ€™t have to be the smartest or the most talented, but you do have to be the hardest working.
Ability is just one factor in success. Work ethic, luck and a strong support base play a far larger role.
As examined in Malcolm Gladwellâ€™s critically acclaimed book, Outliers, to master anything â€“ to become an expert – requires 10,000 hours of practice.
“Everybody in this league is successful,” Ray Allen said in a 2009 interview with J.A Adande. “Everybody in this league has made it to this level where they’re a flagship in their society and their community where they grew up. People look up to them. They’re outliers in their world, but not necessarily amongst ballplayers.â€
Winning comes from winners. It’s almost impossible to create champions from scratch in this league, to ask a group of players who haven’t accomplished anything before to grab the ultimate prize.
The NBAâ€™s mantra has long read: pain and anguish makes the journey up that much more fulfilling.
This summer will be full of pain and anguish for the young superstars of the Bulls and Thunder.
Fortunately, it will provide time â€“ more so an opportunity – to reflect, mature and heal.
Most believe time has the power to heal anything. It doesnâ€™t â€“ itâ€™s what you do with that time.
You can follow Ben Baroff at @bbaroff at twitter.com