Since Kevin Durant announced that he would sign with the Golden State Warriors, he’s been the villain of the National Basketball Association. His jersey was burned in his old town of Oklahoma City. Every time he tweets, no matter how benign the message, hundreds of people respond calling him “snake,” “coward” or “traitor.” People actively wish bad things on him. He’s reached a level of hate usually reserved for Philadelphia sports fans and kids who kick the back of your seat on planes.
It’s been more than six months since Durant left the Thunder, and the animosity toward him has not subsided. This week, in the Warriors’ second faceoff with Oklahoma City this season, the tension between Durant and his former teammates was palpable. When asked whether he and Durant were on speaking terms, Thunder guard Russell Westbrook replied, “Nah.”
Though many players every year switch teams through free agency, Durant faced extra heat for joining the juggernaut Warriors after falling to them in the playoffs last season.
But Durant does not deserve the hate he gets. He came to the Warriors for a 30 percent increase in salary and joined a team with a playing style more suited to his talents. The Warriors give him a significantly higher chance of winning a championship, and he fits well into their system. This season, he’s posting a career-high shooting percentage while also averaging a career high in rebounds and a career low in turnovers.
He’s on a team full of stars, and playing the best basketball of his life. Golden State has the best record in the NBA and is essentially locked in to a playoff berth, and the season isn’t even half over.
In a world where winning a championship is the prerequisite for cementing a basketball player’s legacy, Durant was understandably frustrated by the Thunder’s failed efforts. He made it clear that he wanted Oklahoma City’s team to make improvements in its personnel, and it shouldn’t have been a surprise to so many that he didn’t resign with them after being ousted in the Western Conference Finals last May after leading the seven-game series 3–1. If an average person was offered a new job with higher pay, more upward mobility and coworkers that were easier to work with, they’d be insane to turn it down.
Which begs the question: Is Kevin Durant supposed to have a greater sense of loyalty because he’s 6-foot-9? Why do we expect more from athletes than we do from ourselves?
Being a professional athlete doesn’t make a person better; no profession does. People are just people, and we need to stop acting like athletes must meet a higher moral standard just because they’re stronger and faster than the rest of us. We tell them they must be role models for kids and then get appalled when we see reports of these newly minted millionaires partying at strip clubs. We impose fines on players who swear in public or get caught using drugs.
We idolize our favorite athletes and expect them to be perfect. But that’s not what they signed up for. As Hall-of-Fame forward Charles Barkley said, “I’m not paid to be a role model, I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court.” Athletes have no responsibility to fulfill imbalanced expectations for their off-field conduct.
And if we care so much about their development as people, why do we instruct the best players to leave college early or skip it entirely? It’s hypocritical. The general public wants to say that they care about the education and well-being of these athletes. Of course they should be educated. And of course they are free to make their own decisions. But maybe we don’t want to wait four years to watch them play professionally. And maybe they should apologize publicly every time they say something we don’t like.
Kevin Durant made a decision that is objectively better for him and for his career. He is a human being and it doesn’t make him selfish to take control of his own path through the NBA. He owes nothing to the Thunder or to Oklahoma City, which, by the way, isn’t even the city to which he was originally drafted.
Critics argue that it’s taking the easy way out to join the best team in the NBA. However, no matter the team, winning it all is no simple task. The “indefensible” Miami Heat was expected to break every record in the books after combining Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh on the same team. But the “Big Three” won just two championships in four seasons, and James lost again in the Finals in his first season back in Cleveland with another “superteam.” Nothing is guaranteed.
We’d all like to think that in the same situation, we’d choose to stay in Oklahoma City, valuing loyalty and history over money and victory. I don’t believe, though, that many of us actually would. We live in a practical world, and like Durant, we’re all just regular people who have to make the best decisions we can for ourselves.
So don’t sweat it, KD. Keep doing your thing, and don’t worry what anyone else says. You the real MVP.
Garrett Gile is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact him at email@example.com .