When the last true villain exited the NBA on April 13, 2016, no one expected he would be replaced. The modern NBA is a league of friendships, comaraderie and respect. Social media requires likeability and political correctness. Saying the right thing and making sure fans understand that you appreciate them is the rule of the day. There are no Kobe Bryants anymore, players who thrive off of negative passion and energy, who push themselves to the greatest heights because people hate them. Those that do the hating have to be put in their place to demonstrate how ridiculously overdramatic they are- that was the Bryant prescription.
Kevin Durant is not Kobe Bryant. He is not thick skinned. He is not f___ you. He is not I don’t need your approval, I need your respect. Kevin Durant is a genuinely nice person who has internal flaws like all of us have. He wants people to think of him as good. He wants people to think of him as loyal. He wants people to think that he works hard. He wants to be a champion. Kevin Durant is not Kobe Bryant. But for the first time in his career, he got the Kobe Bryant treatment, thought not as loudly nor as as vitriolic but Kevin Durant was still hated.
Anyone win the title but the Warriors, please. It had nothing to do with Steph and Dray and Klay. It was KD that punked the city who loved him. We all know that feeling. Someone loves you. You don’t love them back. Durant legitimized all those emotions.
Consider the Durant crime. He left OKC. He left the family that nurtured him. He left the two headed monster. He joined the enemy. He made friends with the team that eliminated him and kept him from the Finals, the same team he was on the cusp of eliminating himself. He refused to explain himself to his supposed “friend” Russell Westbrook. Kevin Durant is worthy of negativity. He is not good. Good people don’t leave. They don’t divorce you. They don’t walk out the door. Good people stay. They are loyal.
Kevin Durant is a NBA champ. He slayed the LeBron James beast. And in doing so he gained respect among his peers, if not among rank and file fans. Durant is an acceptable figure to take the LeBron James torch. Just like LeBron was more than capable of the Kobe Bryant torch.
No one is saying Durant is a top-5 all time player. He doesn’t have one All-Defense selection while Jordan and Bryant and LeBron have 23 All-Defense first team selections. (Jordan and Bryant 9 each, LeBron 5).
But Durant can dominate a series. He is unguardable. He loves the moment. He is the reason the Warriors won the title. And it helps with his peers that he has a familiar NBA story of class struggle, adversity, media backlash and then champion.
There were many who thought Durant going to the Warriors meant he just wanted to ride the coattails of Steph Curry and company and I’m not saying that he didn’t. But that was a very shallow argument. Durant’s game doesn’t fit the two man iso Shaq-Kobe set. It flourishes in a space the floor, we have multiple shooters so good luck guarding us offense. It was the style of play that OKC could not compete with.
LeBron set the stage for iconic players walking away from the team that drafted them and then rationalizing it because what else is there to do when your jersey is being burned. LeBron said he didn’t care. But unlike LeBron, Durant didn’t lose in his first Finals after running away from home so his first year as the bad guy was palatable. He followed the script. He kept his head down. He took on the venom. And he had one of the best seasons in his career, highs across the board.
His gifted talent aside, Durant has known failure and he has reached euphoric success. He has been injured and missed a lot of a season. He has played games and missed nothing. He has been at the precipice. He has been in the center. The bright lights overwhelmed him. The bright lights energized him. He has been at the bottom. He has clawed his way to the top. He has been a superstar no one talks about before they mention LeBron James. He has been a superstar everyone talks about, 24-7. He is a legendary figure who walked away, who left his own people high and dry and he elevated himself and his career. Despite the narrative, he still is talented. He still is admired. He still is persistent. Loser will never be attached to him. He made the Warriors better.
Don’t be afraid to cheer Kevin Durant, Finals MVP. He deserves it. He is like the rest of us. Not perfect. Emotional. Wanting what he never had. He is more like Kobe Bryant than people think. Willing to be hated in order to be loved as a winner.
photo via llananba