October 25, 2016

AKABAS | Let’s Clear Up A Few Things About Kevin Durant Joining the Warriors

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Photo Courtesy of Mercury News

NBA fans constitute one of the most delusional groups of people, along with people who think Chicago-style pizza is pizza, people who don’t like pizza at all, and people who think that Gary Johnson or Jill Stein is anywhere close to knowledgeable enough about how anything works to be President of the United States.

Rarely has this delusion been more palpable than in the aftermath of Kevin Durant signing with the Golden State Warriors in free agency this summer. Last year, the Warriors went an unprecedented 73-9 and narrowly defeated Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals before losing a heartbreaker in the Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Many fans were angry that Durant joined forces with the team that beat him, and this is justified. A lot of people, however, have said a lot of other things about what Durant did, and most of them are inaccurate, so let’s debunk these myths, one by one.

Myth #1: Nobody has ever done anything like this before

Moses Malone played five straight seasons with the Houston Rockets from 1978-1982. Moses achieved individual success (two NBA Most Valuable Player awards) despite never eclipsing 47 regular season wins and only making one NBA Finals. In 1982, the Rockets were disappointedly ousted from the first round of the playoffs, and Malone, a free-agent, signed with the Philadelphia 76ers, that year’s NBA Finals runner-up led by Julius Erving, the most recent MVP winner other than Moses himself… sound familiar?

Myth #2: This is totally different from LeBron James leaving Cleveland for Miami in 2010
I understand the distinctions (namely that Durant piggybacked on an existing powerhouse team that had defeated him in the playoffs), but nearly everything else is the same:

  1. [Durant / LeBron] left [Oklahoma City / Cleveland], a small market, struggling team that he had played for his entire career, led to the NBA Finals once but didn’t win, and had just lost agonizingly in the playoffs.
  2. [Durant / LeBron] teamed up with [Steph Curry / Dwyane Wade], a superstar who had already won a championship on his own, and many believed that the [Warriors / Heat] would remain “[Steph’s / Wade’s] team.”
  3. Years before he actually entered free agency, people speculated about what [Durant / LeBron] would do. Most assumed that he would resign with his team, and nobody really considered [Golden State / Miami] a legitimate option until late June. Once the announcement was made, fans across the country lost their minds and burned [Durant / LeBron] jerseys. He went from being the most popular players in the league to one of the most hated overnight.
  4. [Durant / LeBron] was accused of “ring chasing,” people proclaimed that the creation of a superteam in [Golden State / Miami] would be unfair and throw off the league’s competitive balance, and Charles Barkley called his decision to leave his loyal fanbase to win a championship [“disappointing” / “disturbing”].

Much like Batman V. Superman and Captain America: Civil War, one appears to be much worse at first glance, but start to dig deeper into the confusing plans of the respective villains, and you’ll realize that they’re basically the same.

Myth #3: This is even worse than what LeBron James did in 2010

I’ve established that Durant’s and LeBron’s actions were incredibly similar, but LeBron’s were worse because of the way he did it: “The Decision” and the hilarious, ridiculous, self-indulgent party in Miami that followed.

Myth #4: If Kevin Durant wins with the Warriors, his championships will be meaningless

The prime counter-example is LeBron, of course, whose two championships in Miami not only made many people forgive “The Decision,” but also rendered his previous playoff failures forgotten, even before he returned to Cleveland in 2014. Additionally, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson won five titles together, each playing with another all-time great, and they are respected as two of the winningest players ever. And Moses Malone, whose only ring came in his first year playing with Julius Erving and company, was named the 15th greatest player of all-time by ESPN earlier this year.

Myth #5: Kevin Durant is disloyal to Oklahoma City

The 20-62 Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008. In the next near-decade, Durant provided a struggling franchise in a city that had never had a major sports team with exciting basketball, including an NBA Finals appearance. He could have left in 2010, the same year of LeBron’s infamous free agency, but he quietly signed a long-term extension. What more do you want? If Batman hadn’t returned from the pit in “The Dark Knight Rises,” he’d have been significantly less awesome, but he’d still have saved Gotham from a multiple terrorist attacks. Does Durant have Batman-level loyalty? No, but that’s a very high standard.

Myth #6: Kevin Durant is a bad guy

Imagine that one team has held the Helen Newman basketball court all Friday afternoon, and they just barely won 14-12 against a team with one amazing player, Kevin. The winning team then tells their worst player, Harrison, to go back to his dorm, and they pick up Kevin so they can keep winning. Everyone waiting on the side to play next is upset. They’re not upset at Kevin – he just wants to play. They’re upset at the assholes who felt that they couldn’t keep winning with the team they had, so they snagged Kevin in order to stay on the court.

Myth #7: Kevin Durant only went to Golden State to chase rings

What if he just wanted to play for a good coach for once in his career? What if he wanted to live in San Francisco instead of Oklahoma City? What if he didn’t want to sign a one-year contract and have to deal with all this again next year? There are so many legitimate justifications for Durant’s decision that have nothing to do with basketball. It’s very easy to label him as a “pussy,” and it even feels satisfying to belittle a famous, financially successful, professional athlete, but it’s unfair to rule out that he simply made a logical life choice.

Myth #8: If I were Kevin Durant, I never would have done what he did

Give me a break! That’s like watching someone open their fridge and choose chocolate ice cream cake over his mom’s homemade butternut squash soup and then being like, “F*** that guy for not being loyal to his mom, I would have totally gone with the squash soup if I were him.”

Myth #9: The Warriors will automatically win the NBA championship

Golden State is running back their historically successful lineup but swapping out Harrison Barnes, who couldn’t have hit the side of a barn with a basketball in the Finals, for Kevin Durant, who has shot nearly 50% from the field, 40% on threes, and 90% from the free-throw line for his career, but it’s damn hard to win in the NBA, no matter how stacked your team is.

Of the ten best teams “on paper” since 1980, as determined by FiveThirtyEight, only five actually won the championship (and only one of the six such teams that didn’t have Michael Jordan won). Luck plays a huge role in sports. Between injuries and suspensions (as I’m sure last year’s Warriors team knows), chemistry issues between teammates, and all the other weird stuff that can happen, you just never know.

Myth #10: The NBA is worse off because of Durant’s decision

All you people on Facebook ranting for hours on end about how this is bad for the NBA? That’s probably a sign that this is good for the NBA. Let’s stop pretending that we’re not going to tune in at 10:30 p.m. tonight, and let’s stop pretending that we’re not excited to watch this.