I knew I was going to be irrational with my initial thoughts.
While Independence Day in the sporting world is all about baseball, Wimbledon and how many hot dogs Joey Chestnut can eat in 10 minutes, Kevin Durant dominated the news, taking his talents to the Bay Area. The nine-year veteran who spent his entire career with the Oklahoma City Thunder (including his rookie season in 2007-08 when they were the Seattle Supersonics) wrote a post for The Players Tribune Monday morning about his decision to play for the Golden State Warriors.
My initial reaction was one of complete and utter disgust. To me, this was worse than LeBron James going to Miami after his first stint in Cleveland. The Cavaliers won 61 games in the 2009-10 season, benefitting from a weak Eastern conference (LeBron’s best players were Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison and an out-of-shape Shaquille O’Neal) before falling to Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Also, the immortal Mike Brown was the head coach and the front office was just pathetic at the time. Of course, I roasted LeBron back then too — more for The Decision broadcast — but as time goes on, you understand more.
This is why my Kevin Durant criticism was going to be off the charts when I first heard the news. In Oklahoma City, he had a top-5 player in Russell Westbrook and two very solid big men in Enes Kanter and Steven Adams. With Victor Oladipo getting traded to the Thunder in free agency, the roster seemed prime for title contention — and Durant left for the Warriors. You know, the team who won an NBA-record 73 games without him, have the two-time defending MVP in Steph Curry, won the 2015 title and played in the Finals this year — after overcoming a 3-games-to-1 deficit over Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals. I thought this was treason to the highest level, especially with a good coach and well-respected front office.
And then, I started thinking a little more.
We live in an era where we’re quick to chastise players for not doing what we believe they should do. We respect greats such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and Larry Bird because they stayed with their teams to win championships. Loyalty means a lot to the average fan who shells money for tickets, jerseys and apparel while watching their favorite players lead their team to victory.
In the same breath, wasn’t Patrick Ewing loyal? What about Karl Malone? Reggie Miller? Why didn’t Shaquille O’Neal get additional crucifixion when he left the Orlando Magic to play for the Los Angeles Lakers? How quick did some forget after LeBron James got his titles with the Heat? Hell, Dennis Rodman switched from the Detroit Pistons to a Chicago Bulls team he hated after a short stint with San Antonio.
Then we haven’t even gotten into how disloyal management can be. Trades are made regularly, and some GMs have no conscience at times. In fact, just last year there were strong rumors of Durant being traded and an August 2015 ESPN poll had 40 percent agreeing he should be traded (out of 103,645 votes). Let’s ignore what he did for the community through philanthropic efforts, especially when Oklahoma City dealt with natural disasters. Let’s forget this is the same organization who essentially gift-wrapped James Harden to Houston to keep Serge Ibaka (who got traded for Oladipo). I have respect for Sam Presti and the Thunder brass, but all the head honchos keep a Beyoncé single around for players who think they’re irreplaceable. Remember, even Michael Jordan was about to become a Los Angeles Clipper back in 1987.
Then you have to look at one major factor: superstars are defined by championships. If LeBron never won his, he wouldn’t be in the upper echelon of all-time greats. If Clyde Drexler didn’t get traded from Portland to Houston, he’d be yet another phenomenal shooting guard in Jordan’s shadow. Can you be upset with older guys like Gary Payton and Kevin Garnett ring chasing in the twilights of their careers? While we want our perennial All-Stars to be loyal, we also want them to be NBA champions. While many look at this as the cowards way out for Durant, to be Curry’s sidekick, it won’t matter if he hoists that Larry O’Brien trophy at season’s end.
Then you have to remember: super teams don’t always pan out. Remember how the Lakers were supposed to dominate in 2003-04 with Kobe, Shaq, Payton and Malone? Or Houston in 1998-99 with Hakeem Olajuwon, Scottie Pippen and Drexler? Let’s not act like the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers or the San Antonio Spurs (who just picked up Pau Gasol) aren’t great teams in their own right. Even the Thunder could surprise with Westbrook playing out of his mind. Nothing is guaranteed in the league, health included.
For Kevin Durant’s sake, he better be right. The initial shock will wear off, the season will start and we’ll see how things go. With Durant being a likeable guy, maybe he won’t see as much venom and most NBA fans (except the ones in Oklahoma City) will eventually move on when this isn’t the trending topic. Such is the life of the Snap Reaction Era. As for me? I’ve lost some respect for Durant, but he believes this was the best move for his legacy. I’ll let him flourish while hoping my Denver Nuggets can actually do something in the league.
One thing will remain constant though: anyone who picks the Warriors on NBA 2K17 is susceptible to getting socked in the mouth. Gamers aren’t that quick to forgive and forget.