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 is going to get the Bryant treatment.
Everyone hates Kevin Durant. In his first preseason game, in a city without a NBA team, Kevin Durant was booed.
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. He has not picked up the phone. He has not called him. 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 brought this on himself.
Whenever he touches the ball and he is on the road, he is going to be booed. If the Warriors don’t win the title, he is going to get clowned and laughed at. If he does win the title, it is going to be because of Steph Curry. Curry, already the media darling, the face of everything NBA, will get the credit unless Durant wins the Finals MVP, a real possibility since Curry has been awful in the two NBA Finals he has appeared in. Kevin Durant will be booed because he is seen to be a hanger on. A front runner. A not builder of things but someone who wants the easy way out. He will be despised. And it will bother him.
In the past two years, Durant has gone public with things that have gotten on his nerves. Usually they were media related, things that were written. He was particularly pissed when the media kept bringing up that Scott Brooks had to win the title or be fired. Durant went on a tirade. Then, in a bizarre strategy, he went off on Stephen A. Smith which caused the ever loquacious Smith to eviscerate Durant on cable television.
Durant is a nice person. And nice people have sensitivities. But is Durant ready for what he is going to face? He says all the right things. He says he doesn’t care. He says what people think of him doesn’t matter. But we know that’s not true.
LeBron tried that tactic too. Rationalizaton because what else is there when your jersey is being burned. LeBron said he didn’t care. Then he lost in the Finals, actually he choked, made terrible decisions, looked confused and startled. The summer of 2011, he remained cloaked inside his house in the darkness, not speaking to anyone. Then it came to him like an epiphany. He is not that guy. He is not a villain. He is not hate me guy. He is not negative. He is happy and outgoing and friendly. He decided that he was going to be who he was rather than respond to what the fans who burned his jerseys and hated him because of The Decison wanted him to be.
Eventually Kevin Durant will get there. But the first year as the bad guy, he has to absorb it. Take it all in. Learn how to handle the venom. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.
After nine years, Kevin Durant has tasted abject 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. If he fails in Oakland, he will be a legendary figure who walked away, who left his own people high and dry and he failed. He will still be talented. He will still be admired. He will still be persistent. But his entire narrative will have changed. Loser will be attached to him. He didn’t make the Warriors better. He made them worse.
So when Kevin Durant comes to your arena, boo him. He deserves it. And when Kevin Durant comes to your arena, don’t be afraid to cheer him. He deserves that too. 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.
photo via llananba