On Saturday night, we got our first glimpse of an exciting and dangerous new sight: superstar NBA small forward Kevin Durant in a Golden State Warriors jersey, as the Warriors took on the Toronto Raptors in their preseason opener. We’re going to see a lot of that this upcoming season and in many more seasons to come. It’s time to come to grips with it.
The nationwide (actually continent-wide on Saturday, because the game was played in Vancouver) hatred for Durant began in earnest during that exhibition contest, as Durant was showered with a combination of cheers and boos. The boos will only grow louder, and louder, until they peak when Durant returns to his old stomping grounds in Oklahoma City for a showdown with Russell Westbrook and the Thunder on Feb. 11.
Why do people suddenly hate Kevin Durant so much? It’s hard to tell. He did not punch, kick or target the private areas of any of his fellow players. He is not an unlikable figure on the court. He did not trash his old team on the way out the door.
No, the crime that Durant committed was exercising his free will, and choosing to join another team. That team was the Golden State Warriors, who set an NBA record with 73 regular season wins last season, and have the two-time reigning MVP on their roster in sharpshooting guard Stephen Curry. That particular choice has elicited a tidal wave of hostility from NBA fans that are moaning about the creation of another “super team.”
Yes, this iteration of the Warriors, which rosters two top-three NBA players and two more that would not be out of the place in the top-15, will likely be a super team. They may not click right away, but once they figure out their spacing on offense, they could roll through the league with relative ease.
But to direct an overwhelming, endless tirade of hate at Durant himself because he chose to make this decision is just wrong.
Durant is no different than any other unrestricted free agent. His situation just exists on a much, much grander scale. The concept of free agency in American professional sports, and more specifically unrestricted free agency in the NBA, exists to allow players to choose. They have fulfilled the terms and conditions of their prior contracts, and they can now use their own judgment to choose their own contracts on the free market.
Durant weighed his options. “The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player – as that has always steered me in the right direction,” he wrote in his Players’ Tribune essay that broke the news of his move, a piece in which he also highlighted the importance of “moving out of my comfort zone” and thanked the community of Oklahoma City.
It’s true that he probably had more to give to Oklahoma City, a city where he had spent nearly ten years to open his career, and in time he might have finally delivered a championship. However, he gave the Thunder everything during that timeframe. He helped turn them into a legitimate contender as the franchise adjusted to its new life in a relatively small-time city. He racked up accolades and gave the city someone to stand behind. He existed seamlessly with the enigmatic Russell Westbrook, as the two grew stronger after the Thunder traded future MVP candidate James Harden away in 2012 for financial reasons.
He tried, and tried to bring the team all the way to the mountaintop, and he couldn’t succeed. Had he left four years ago, maybe this is a different story, but he certainly tried. Now, he’s made the difficult choice to uproot his life and take on a new challenge.
“It really pains me to know that I will disappoint so many people with this choice, but I believe I am doing what I feel is the right thing at this point in my life and my playing career,” Durant wrote in that fateful Players’ Tribune essay.
This was clearly a hard choice for him to make, and he made it with knowledge of the vitriol that would be flung his way. In the ensuing months, he’ll feel the full brunt of his decision as he tours the NBA’s arenas, and that will be a challenge for him. It will also take time for him to find his footing with the Warriors, as it did for LeBron James when he joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat in 2010.
We want villains in sports, I understand that. I’m sure I’ll find myself rooting against the Warriors at some point if they become invincible, because it’s fun to see an empire toppled by a worthy opponent. But don’t turn Kevin Durant into your own personal Darth Vader because of the decision he made. He doesn’t deserve that.
Tyler Keating is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.