Recently, Kevin Durant opened up to the media about his decision to join the Golden State Warriors. One of the more striking quotes he gave was about his quiet happiness over the Warriors losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. His quote, from former Thunder beat writer, and current Warriors beat writer Anthony Slater goes as follows:
I get it. I really do. Golden State plays a very pure style of basketball. The kind of style a player like Durant would probably flourish in. A style the Thunder likely tried to develop with a defensive stretch-4 (Serge Ibaka) and defensive 3-and-D wing (Thabo Sefolosha, Andre Roberson). Unfortunately, the offensive parts of those defensive role players never fully materialized, and the Thunder offense usually reverted back to its default: isolation ball. While an iso-heavy style works when you have two of the best players in the world, it also bogs down when you start playing the best teams in the world (i.e. playoff teams).
But that doesn’t mean the quote doesn’t grind my nerves a bit. It’s not for the fact that he left, though. As stated above, I get it. Sometimes, greatness needs a change to avoid getting stale. Durant gave Oklahoma City eight years of his career. He gave them a trip to the Finals, countless unforgettable in-game performances, and an MVP celebration. He gave them an identifiable face, a humble back story, and a giving heart in times of need.
But his latest round of quotables runs completely counter to the guy Oklahomans fell in love with for eight years. We remember the Durantula, the Junkyard Dog, the Slim Reaper, the Servant (?). We remember Durant saying he wants to beat the best, not join the best when his name was mentioned in the same sentence as LeBron James’. We remember the guy that wanted to stop coming in second. The guy that continued to fight.
When you read the above quote, though, you see something else. You see someone already knee deep in the quicksand of giving up. Someone ogling the pretty girl at the end of the bar, while his ride or die waits at home for him. Someone who became resigned to join the “best”, not beat them. Kevin Durant was cheating on Oklahoma City way before we suspected the treachery could be real.
Anthony Slater again provided some more quotes from Durant before his first preseason game in Vancouver. Slater asked Durant about the differences between his new team and previous team, and he provided the following answer:
“I’m used to going into practice and having it a certain way. These guys around here are super loose. But disciplined at the same time. It’s just a fun brand. They make basketball just even more fun than it was.”
When Slater pressed him about the “more fun than is was” part of the quote, Durant immediately shot back, “I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that.”
That reaction reeks of someone who is still unsure of how to act in this new chapter in his life. He’s a villain now. He knows it; he just didn’t expect to be a supervillain. So he is still struggling with that fact. When there is a struggle with a new identity, there’s usually a hint of doubt as to whether the person made the right decision. And that doubt can sometimes manifest itself into childlike outbursts. “Nuh-uh. I didn’t say that. You’re lying. I’m going to tell.”
Think about a time you got promoted and now had people in your charge. When people make that leap to a supervisory role, there is usually a hint of fear when that first worker gives you push-back. There’s a small longing for a time when there wasn’t so much responsibility. Durant knows a ton of pressure is heaped upon his shoulders. If the Warriors falter, regardless of how it happens (injuries, chemistry issues, etc), it will all fall back on Durant. And that, like it would for many of us, probably scares him.
When asked about his time in Oklahoma City, Durant chose the following quote:
“That book is closed. I’m looking forward now. All I’m focused on is how we prepare here and how we have fun here every day. It’s not a knock on Oklahoma City. It’s not a knock on my past teammates. I’m looking forward. I’m not looking backward.”
And this is where I have a problem with how Durant is handling things. It’s not the fact that he is wanting to look forward. I completely understand that. When you make a big decision on your own accord, it’s best to look forward and not look back. But it’s the desire to completely forget his time in Oklahoma City that bothers me. He had a great run in OKC. Did he get his long desired championship? No. But I think this community was a great petri dish for him to develop himself into the player, the spokesman, and the man he is today. The fact that he hasn’t even mentioned OKC in a positive light since July 4th, leads me to believe that he wants desperately to move past the decision to leave and just focus on the upcoming season. He wants everyone to act like he was drafted by the Warriors this past offseason.
Well, Kevin, you weren’t drafted by the Warriors. You were drafted by the Seattle Supersonics, who a year later became the Oklahoma City Thunder. You spent eight years of your life here, and you flourished. Conversely, we also flourished. But what bothers me isn’t the shade that’s being cast on Oklahoma City and on the Thunder. Its the subtlety with which Durant is trying to go about it. Like he wants to throw shade, but still be likable. You can’t have it both ways, Kevin. Let’s not forget the facts in all of this: YOU (or your dad, or your agent, or your shoe company) made the decision to go. OKC wasn’t pining for your exit. We were waiting on you to come back home. Instead, you decided to stay in San Francisco with that trashy flight attendant.
When I started this article, I didn’t want it to sound like a Facebook confessional from a jilted ex-spouse. But then again, this is usually what the end of a relationship sounds like. One party trying to defend their action, while the other party is left to react to the other’s actions. There will eventually come a point where Durant becomes the prodigal son to Oklahoma City. Not necessarily as a player, but likely, as a ceremonious symbol once his playing career comes to a close. His No. 35 jersey will be hoisted to the rafters at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. His accolades during his time with the Thunder will be reflected upon. And there will be a huge smile on everyone’s face, to include Durant’s. But it is during this time that I also want him to remember what’s going on now. To reflect on the time he wanted everyone to gloss over (or entirely forget) his eight years in Oklahoma City.