Kevin Durant’s Pettiness, And Why Championships Aren’t Enough Anymore
Being an NBA Star today must be difficult. Scrutiny follows your every move, and opinions—both the best and worst kinds of them—easily storm in from every corner of the world, raw and unfiltered. Kevin Durant found this out the hard way when he left the Oklahoma City Thunder last year to join a 73-win Golden State Warriors team, perhaps the greatest case of the-rich-getting-richer we’ve ever seen in the NBA.
The negativity that followed was incredible. Once a hometown hero, Durant was labeled a coward, a cupcake, and a snake, among others. Where the NBA’s Hall of Fame is filled with names of heroes who won championships as undisputed Alphas of their teams—Isiah, Olajuwon, Jordan—Durant’s free agency decision meant he could never truly be among them.
Was he allowed to leave OKC in free agency? Sure, absolutely. That was his right. But to a Finals-bound team led by then-reigning MVP Stephen Curry? That was the basketball equivalent of flipping a video game to Easy Mode.
Well, we know what happened after that: Durant and the Warriors went on to win the NBA Championship, and Durant himself bagged the title of Finals MVP.
He could have let that been the end of it. Let the critics be, while lording his new piece of jewelry around. That’s what he committed to, after all: a statement that championships were more important than anything else.
Except, Durant just couldn’t seem to ignore all the criticism against him. He still can’t.
In fact, with his continuous stream of pettiness in the way he acknowledges his critics, he has done the opposite: he validated them. First, during the season, there were those “cupcake” shirts his teammates wore back during the Warriors’ game against the Thunders—attempts to turn the tables on his “haters” by owning the nickname:
He followed this up with the red velvet cupcake shoes, and a cupcake cap with a ring on it:
KD did it better pic.twitter.com/HbXnBsU4KX— Josh Ruggles (@RealJoshRuggles) July 4, 2017
KD next showed how much the criticisms were bothering him when Peyton Manning made a joke at the ESPY’s at his expense: “Our gymnastics team was so dominant that Kevin Durant told me he wants to play for them next year!” KD couldn’t help but tweet a flat face emoji toward the end of the night, even if the Warriors won a Best Team Award that same evening.
At this point, it became apparent that KD wasn’t so much “feeding off his haters’ tears," as SB Nation tried to put it—he was desperately trying to reconfigure the criticisms in a way that made it look like he'd been over them. But the more he did, the more obvious it became that Durant was bothered. He cared so much that he resorted to his superior wealth and media influence, just to tell people he didn’t care.
This became most apparent with his “Finals” shoe, which attempts to lampshade all his criticisms by listing them down. The shoes essentially shouted, “But look, I’m a Finals MVP, look!”
And finally, the coup de grace: KD was caught red-handed trying to defend himself with fake Twitter accounts—after he forgot to log out of his own public accounts. So red-handed, in fact, that he had no choice but to address and apologize for it a few days later, especially for throwing his old Coach Billy Donovan under the bus.
So much glory in winning the championship and the Finals MVP. So much esteem he should have gotten from that ever-elusive ring.
And yet, to him, it still wasn’t enough. Now, he craves the one thing he surrendered when he left OKC to ride on Steph’s coattails: respect. Durant knows that no matter how many rings he wins now, he’ll never attain the type of cultural respectability that the likes of Duncan and Bird have had. And judging from his string of petty retorts, he hates it.
The validity of the “coward” and “snake” criticisms aren’t even up for debate anymore. Because of all the noise that Durant has made, he has validated them himself. He could have—should have—taken the wind out of his critics’ sails by letting his basketball do the work. Instead, he devolved and joined what was essentially a shouting competition.
The result? Kevin Durant now looks like the saddest and least dignified Finals MVP in NBA history.
Schoolteachers are using him as a “bad example”, and all he can respond with is to throw teachers like that in jail:
"DON'T BE A...Kevin Durant"— SB Nation (@SBNation) August 18, 2017
"DO BE A ...Michael Jordan"https://t.co/00R9nQg4HH
whoever did this should be fired and thrown in jail.— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) August 18, 2017
When all’s said and done and the sports almanacs have recorded who won a trophy that year for being very good at basketball, it’s quite telling that someone can win it all and still be unsatisfied with that.
Durant wasn’t always like this. I know because I used to be a fan, wearing his Thunders number shirt way back in the 2012 season. I liked the Warriors just as much, and celebrated riotously when they won it all in 2015. By all means, I should have rejoiced when he joined Golden State. The only problem was this: When Durant moved, he proclaimed that winning a championship was not nearly as important as how you won it. And I simply could not support that idea. No matter how you look at the way he exercised his player’s right, it remains that he took the easy way out. That is, and will always be, the narrative.
But hey. At least he won a championship, right?
There’s a beautiful set-up here that could very well dictate how players move in the future. Kyrie Irving celebrated being traded to Boston for the opposite reason—he wants to be the main man on the team, even if it meant moving from Cleveland’s envious contender status. Russell Westbrook maintains that he wants to win in OKC, which is why he’s stayed put, even though the path to a ring looks harder than ever before. It paves the way for discussion on what’s really important in the NBA landscape. There are so many types of roads toward those championships, some rockier than others.
But if there were only one thing we learned about Durant’s response to his own critics, it’s that you have to pay attention to the journey as much as the destination. Because, as KD is learning, there will be heat in taking the easy way out… And if you can’t take it, at least get off Twitter.
This article was originally published in the author's Medium.