Ever since July 4th 2016, the day Kevin Durant announced his intent to sign with the Golden State Warriors in free agency, he has faced criticism to a level not previously seen in his career. He was derided for this decision, with pejoratives such as weak, soft, cupcake(particularly by the people of Oklahoma City)to name a few. His competitive spirit, and manhood in some instances ,was questioned.
While his departure from the Thunder caused me to raise an eyebrow, as I did not expect him to leave, it did not upset me. I can see both sides of the discussion on the move at the time. As someone who grew up watching the NBA in the late 80′ and 90’s, I remember how the league was during that era, particularly the stars, more oft than not, wanted to beat each other rather than join forces. Rivalries and epic matchups, which were a staple of that time period, are a lot less likely if all the top tier talent is concentrated in only a few locales. Approaching this from that standpoint, my take was more disappointment, rather than anger. Many superstars of yesteryear and today are synonymous with a particular franchise and KD was amongst those ,due to the amount of time and team as well as individual success achieved in OKC .
The fact cannot be omitted that Thunder team was up 3-1 on the Warriors and looked good doing it before playing three of the dumbest basketball games I have ever seen which led to them losing the series and costing the Thunder another trip to the NBA Finals(this, along with the Warriors losing the finals are the two of the prime factors that got KD to Golden State). I, like many others, thought we were on the verge of a captivating rivalry in the Western Conference, but unfortunately we were denied that and it can be those rivalries that pushes players to new heights in their game. As a fan of the game of basketball, I felt cheated because we did not get to see that.
However, as I have shifted my perspective on sports to one that identifies more with what is in the best interest of the athlete while also seeing it for the business that it is, I can understand why Durant took the course that he did. If winning is the ultimate goal of players and teams, then does Durant not owe it to himself to position himself in the best position, or what he perceives as the best position, to achieve that end?
The term ring chasing is typically applied to guys who were once top tier players but are usually at the tail end of their careers and bounce from contending team to contending team, typically in a vastly reduced role, looking to win that championship that eluded them. It’s usually applied in a disparaging manner. Some fans and even some in the sports media have apply this label to KD, he simply doesn’t fit into this category. For starters, he is under 30 and still in his prime, which likely means his best basketball may still be in front of him rather than in his rear view mirror. Further illustrating this, Durant simultaneously seamlessly integrated himself into the Warriors’ system while also emerging as their best player. This was on full display in the NBA Finals, where KD averaged 35.2ppg, 8.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists (while shooting 55.6% from the field, 47.4% from three point range and 92.7% from the foul line) en route to winning Finals MVP in Golden State’s 4-1 series win over Cleveland. It was crystal clear this wasn’t a player who was well past his prime just latching on to a contender to sit on the bench 98% of of the time. This seemingly flies in the face of the stance that he “gravy trained” this title or as people such as Reggie Miller termed it “traded legacy for cheap jewelry”. I grew up watching the era that Miller played in and it’s quite easy to identify with why he would say that, however he wasn’t dead weight that was carried to a championship. Durant was one of primary factors for Golden State winning the title. To put it succinctly, the Warriors do not with the 2017 without Kevin Durant.
A final note on this concept of “ring chasing” – all teams do it. Allegedly, these clubs are in it to win it and if they are serious about winning, these teams are on a constant quest to improve their rosters in order to move up the standings or maintain their position atop the mountain. Failure to do this will ,sooner rather later, cause them to quickly be overtaken and it can take several years ( and several coaches, GMs and rosters) to get their lots improved. Despite this concept being accepted sports fact, for some reason, the Warriors organisation caught a lot of flack for their signing of KD. True, the club did win 73 games but there are no trophies for regular season wins and they failed in their ultimate goal of winning an NBA title, despite being up 3-1 in the championship series versus the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Draymond Green suspension notwithstanding, the Warriors did not get it done and felt they needed to improve their team. They took advantage of the spike in the salary cap and made a few moves to free up the space that would allow them to bring KD in. I have no issue with them doing such as every other NBA had a similar opportunity and either chose not to or due to other moves, good or bad, were not in position to attempt to bring Kevin Durant in or even a player close to his ilk. Fans, if you want to be upset, don’t be upset with the Warriors, be upset with your respective favorite team for not correctly positioning themselves to make certain power moves. These fans may also be unhappy because they know Golden State is a team their favorite club will have to deal with for several years.
The 2017 NBA title is not an asterisk championship; it was earned and it is ridiculous to attempt to discredit the achievement. Kevin Durant was a free agent and, like a certain former headband wearing superstar, had every right to do what he did, whether we like it or not.