When Lew Alcindor came west from New York to play at UCLA he fell in love with the mountains, ocean and live and let live philosophy. When Kobe Bryant came to Los Angeles, he never wanted to leave. Andre Iguodala loved the tech culture of Northern California. From first glance, Kevin Durant seemed similarly aligned, stuck on California. But really, Durant was stuck on Durant. California didn’t thrill him.
Californians are politically aligned. We protect the environment from rapist land developers. We’ll pay higher taxes to help the immigrant poor and to fix our roads. We care about healthcare and what is happening at the border. We are tech innovators. We love our celebs. We also love our sports teams. In the Bay, they hate SoCal. In L.A., they hate the Warriors. But no one hates Durant (except die hard Dubs fan) because Durant was a transplanter who didn’t really like being here. He wasn’t one of us.
For all of his outsider talk, he didn’t try to be an insider.
Kevin Durant and LeBron James are often compared. Both came to California in free agency. Both are preternatural scorers who ditched the teams that drafted them for greener pastures. In those greener pastures, they won two titles. Durant and LeBron are arguably number one and number two best players in the league, owning multiple All-Stars and All-NBA nods. Both are elite stars in the era in which their careers have taken shape and they have added substance to the era they have played in. But while the surface details may align them as similar, Durant isn’t LeBron James.
According to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report, one of the reasons Durant was so quick to ditch the Warriors, a proven champion, for the Nets, a team on the rise, is that the Warriors offense that everyone loves so much Durant hates. All that ball movement and player movement and setting screens isn’t a Durant thing. He wants to iso and iso and iso. He wants to be the 6-11 version of James Harden. Durant iso’d in OKC and he ditched them, claiming, at the time, he wanted a more comprehensive way of playing basketball. The greatest iso players of this era, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, are title-less. Durant has his titles, he has been affirmed by the league and the era. So it’s back to the OKC version of Kevin Durant.
He’s envious that Miami never asked LeBron to change. LeBron continued the team game and making teammates better, enjoying a pass as much as a turnaround j and his chase down block(s). LeBron is attached to the beautiful game the Warriors eroticize. His sensitivity is not around his greatness and the game. LeBron knows who he is. It doesn’t have to be about him 24-7. Case in point, LeBron left Cleveland to play with better players. Durant ditched better players to go to Brooklyn and dominate the basketball.
In that same Bleacher Report article Beck noted that Durant is a robot. He doesn’t like real life intruding upon basketball. He wants to play, go home, practice, play, go home. Don’t ask him about Colin Kapernick or Jussie Smollett or what is happening at the border. Don’t ask him about the possibility of getting into a beef with Iran sending us straight up into war. Basketball is all that is important to Durant.
Seemingly, he joined the wrong franchise. He made a mistake. The Warriors, as all NBA teams do, implement community service projects but the Warriors take it a step further. They are politically active. Steve Kerr and Steph Curry are vocal about their opposition to the current administration and racism and the border disaster. They willingly talk politics, because politics affects life more than basketball affects society.
From the hoodie photo honoring Trayvon Martin to asking the residents of Cleveland to check themselves after a 2-year old was killed in a drive by, to starting his own school for students in financial despair, to questioning Donald Trump, LeBron is his Instagram post: I Am More Than An Athlete.
Kevin Durant is the outlier. I Am Only An Athlete.
In a Steph world Durant struggled with his identity, even being the best player on the team and winning two Finals MVPs. He never could carve out a space for Steph to be popular and KD to be exceptional. He wanted it all. But on some teams the best player is not the most popular player. Not in Golden State. Durant could have averaged 70 points a game and Steph would still be more popular because he was there from the beginning. That matters, how you enter a team and when you enter a team. It felt like Durant was a pole vaulter. Here today. Over the bar. But gone tomorrow. It had a very temporary feel to it.
Off the court, Curry and Durant didn’t fit. Curry is the father of three and Durant is single. But then Draymond is single and he and Curry are very close. With Curry, a friendship never bloomed, evidenced by Curry finding out mid-air Durant was gone. Curry however still went to see Durant to congratulate him. He’s that kind of human being. If the situation were reversed, sensitive Durant always in his feelings would have hopped back on a plane and returned to Shanghai without a shout out for nostalgia’s sake. He wouldn’t have been so generous.
For all the searching for friendship Durant is seeking, he 86’d one of the best friends to have.
Durant was only here for three years and sometimes it felt longer. Everything, all the drama and theater was about him which was how he wanted and how he didn’t want it. He wanted coverage of being the best player. And he wanted to control who said it and how they said it and why. At times, he feels born for this era, unable to let the mindless chatter roll off of him, caring too much.
In that infamous Clippers game when he demanded the ball and Dray denied him, Durant was waving the white flag. He was gone, according to Howard Beck, hatching up a plan with Kyrie in September. The Warriors culture was never going to be his. He didn’t warm up to California. He wanted to pound the ball into the hole. He wanted what he had in OKC even as he left OKC for that same reason. In the end, Kevin Durant was never cut out to be in California, to be a star here. But he wasn’t built for OKC either. And Brooklyn is a question mark. Where does Durant belong is the question that will hang over him for the next two years. Perhaps, he cannot belong and can only be that mercenary to take a team from Point A to Point B.