Orville Higgins | Fans made Durant the wimp he's become
Kevin Durant's move from Oklahoma City Thunder to the Golden State Warriors is without question the biggest sports story this week. On the face of it, this is merely a superstar basketballer choosing to exercise his right as a free agent to go wherever he chooses. No big deal, right? Wrong!
There is so much more significance to all this. It may be one small move for a man, but it's a giant leap that opens up a Pandora's box in the mindset of Durant himself, and probably, by extension, the modern-day NBA player. The specifics of this move have never been seen in the NBA before. Those who say it's no different to other such moves, including LeBron James' switch from Cleveland to Miami and back, are simply wrong.
Kevin Durant is arguably among the top three best current players in the league. Russell Westbrook is easily in the top six. These two then formed as good a one-two punch as there is in the league. When LeBron left Cleveland initially, there was no other star player. Durant and Westbrook had already reached an NBA final, and at three different stages in the Western Conference final, they were one good quarter away from reaching another. It was a compelling series, and fans all over the world had a right to expect the rematch the following year. In other words, Durant had a team that was a genuine title contender.
Go if you have to, but not to the team that stopped you from reaching the final. Not to a team already stacked with stars. For Durant to now join the team that beat him smacks of a man who has lost the stomach for the fight. To join a team that doesn't need him to win a championship means that Durant is now prepared to not be "the bus driver," as Charles Barkley puts it, but to now be a "bus rider". He is now prepared to go along for the ride with the reward being an NBA ring. If and when he gets it, what he hopes for, he may not get. He wants to be remembered as a champion; he may well be remembered as a wimp.
We admire sports stars not only for their talent, but for their heart. Their ability to thrive under adversity is central to the adoration we have for them. The reason why sports has been big since the early days of the Olympics is because sports stars display those characteristics we all strive for. We admire their bravery, their spirit, their determination, their 'natural' ability their composure under pressure because those are all qualities we wished we had.
If sports stars didn't display characteristics we held dear, they wouldn't be heroes. The real sports fan has heroes to look up to as if to say, "if they can achieve so much against such great odds, I can, too". If we think our sports stars thrive in easy and unchallenging conditions, our appreciation for them is watered down. Sports stars are not merely people who can shoot three-pointers or score great goals, they are models of excellence for us all to emulate.
In this sense, Durant has failed us. He has let down those who admired him. The fault, though, is not only with Durant. The fault, to a large extent, lies with us the public, especially the influential ones that shape public opinion in how they discuss basketball. The prevailing theory from too many of us, especially in media, is that greatness in basketball must be validated with a ring. Those who have managed to win NBA titles are seen in a greater light than those who haven't. It's unfair because winning a ring is more a function of how good your TEAM is as opposed to how good YOU are.
Durant has won scoring titles, and he has been MVP. He is always at the top of the list of the modern players in terms of points per game. All this should assure him of his place in history. All this should ensure that he is recognised as one of the greats of the game.
Alas, Durant knows this is not enough. He knows that when the scribes meet to discuss the greats, he won't be mentioned unless he wins the NBA, and he is, therefore, prepared to hitch to a great team to get it rather than trying to do it with a team that was on the verge of doing so. Durant may be weak, but his weakness was fashioned and shaped by the irrationality of the basketball public.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to email@example.com.