One of the most polarizing moves in professional sports history came on July 5, 2016, when NBA superstar Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors. After losing to the Warriors in a seven-game series in the Western Conference Finals with the Thunder, Durant followed the age-old phrase “if you can’t beat them, join them.” Similar to Lebron James in 2014, Durant received an abundance of criticism from fellow players, general managers, fans and analysts throughout the world, with notorious ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith going as far as calling Durant’s decision the “weakest move I’ve ever seen from a superstar.” Durant changed the landscape of the NBA, and to seemingly everyone outside of the Bay Area, that was a problem.
In all the frustration, there was no consideration of Durant making a decision in which he put himself first, regardless of what everyone would think. Instead, he received nothing but criticism from people who put their own interests before those of Durant himself.
Now, three years later, Durant has made another move in his career, leaving the Warriors and joining Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. The reaction this time has been the opposite of 2016, as Durant has made a decision which satisfied fans of the league. Recently, Durant spoke out for one of the first times following his move to Brooklyn and provided some important comments to the Wall Street Journal about his decisions and the toxic environment of the NBA. These are points that very few professional athletes are willing to examine but need to be discussed.
In the article, “Kevin Durant’s New Headspace,” Durant shifts the focus away from himself and chooses to analyze the toxic nature of the NBA, particularly in its fanbases, management and what Durant refers to as the “circus of the NBA.” Perhaps, most notably, Durant discusses how the league is often concerned about the mental health of professional athletes, but that lens is rarely turned around to those involved in the sport in other ways. The power-hungry nature of management and the entitled feelings of fanbases are significant mental health issues that are never discussed. People have developed an unhealthy relationship with the business of basketball, so much so that it has taken away from the joy that someone like Durant has always felt playing the game.
In speaking about his time with the Warriors, Durant said, “It didn’t feel as great as it could have been,” largely as a result of the massive amount of criticism revolving around his decision and the ways in which he navigated the politics of the NBA. People should celebrate the abbreviated run of one of the greatest dynasties in basketball history, as the Warriors advanced to three consecutive NBA Finals with Durant, winning two championships. Furthermore, it cannot be denied that the Warriors are an absolute joy to watch and a team that plays basketball with its entire roster in one of the purest forms, unlike the isolation basketball of so many other teams in the league. But ever since the arrival of Durant, there has been nothing but frustration with the Warriors amongst those involved with the NBA.
One striking example of the unhealthy behavior of fans comes from Durant’s 2016 departure from Oklahoma City, the franchise that he grew up with since he was drafted in 2007, when the team was in Seattle and known as the Supersonics. Durant poured countless amounts of time and money into Oklahoma City, yet after making his decision to leave, this relationship devolved into one of completed hatred. Durant recalls “people coming to my house and spray-painting on the for sale signs around my neighborhood” and “burning my jerseys and calling me all types of crazy names.” People chose to degrade a person as an individual because of a decision made in a career, completely negating all the dedication Durant showed to the city for many years and destroying him for making a decision with which they did not agree.
Though he initially planned on rejoining years down the road, this disturbing behavior has caused Durant to lose all sense of attachment to Oklahoma City due to a loss of trust amongst fans and ownership. This distant positive relationship was nothing personal, but, rather, just business. Upon his departure all that love instantly disappeared, and everything he did for the community for almost a decade meant nothing. Durant had become an enemy.
People do not have to agree with the decisions professional athletes make in their careers, such as Kevin Durant choosing to join the Golden State Warriors, but these decisions need to be respected. People, particularly fanbases, need to lose the sense of entitlement they place on athletes and instead must encourage players to make decisions that best support themselves and their own interests before those of anyone else. Most importantly, fans need to stop criticizing, berating, insulting and completely degrading athletes because of the decisions they make in their careers.
To dislike a decision is one thing, but to criticize someone as an individual is something far worse. This practice has become far too common in the sports world of today, and there is perhaps no one better to speak of it than Kevin Durant. It is incredibly important that he did, and regardless of whether you like him or not, we should all take a listen.