Life is dotted with moments in time that turn out to be pivotal or landmark in our personal journeys. Age, a milestone of time spent in a career, devastating injury and loss are all examples of instances of these types of moments. For this series, I’ll take a look at a few players who have reached those points in their NBA journeys, providing a perspective around them that I hope sheds insight into who these players are and how their individual life paths are expressed through basketball. I, through The Sports Fan Journal with Phillip Barnett providing visual aid, present: The Crossroads. The next player is Kevin Durant.
Years Played: 10
2017-18 Stats: 26.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.4 apg, 51.6 fg%, 41.9% 3fg in 68 games.
Song Relevant To His Crossroads: Aloe Blacc – “The Man”
Popularity is an interesting concept. The person or thing cannot control the level of popularity, for we’d all be popular if we could. It starts off small, with a select group of people knowing and liking a person or thing. Then, through word of mouth and other means of exposure, more and more people like and appreciate the person or thing for their ability, quality of product or overall goodness. Popularity starts with a level of underappreciation. Popularity, like most things, grows from a seedling-like ideal into what we know it to be.
What we tend to not acknowledge with popularity is that it can sometimes be developed for one person or thing because we have gotten annoyed with an already popular person or thing within the same realm. We try the new burger joint because the old one is frequented by too many people. A new competitor in fashion gains support when a current major clothing company’s best designs become its most commonly purchased due to popular demand. As a society, we allow ourselves to become annoyed with something or someone’s fame and popularity despite it only being acquired because we give it to them.
Kevin Durant, through no direct agenda of his own, has been juxtaposed next to LeBron James. He has done little to distance himself from this narrative, but he did not author said narrative. He became a man of the people because the people view LeBron as a defied figure, able to do whatever he wants. When LeBron decided to go to the Miami Heat, and thus had mid-level free agents wanting to sign there, Kevin Durant crafted a now infamous tweet questioning the competitive level of certain players in the name of making it “easier” to win.
Infamy is yang to fame’s yin. It is the dark side of exposure and being known. The people, through a person’s actions and words, deem that person bad in the literal meaning of not good. Through that one tweet in 2010, 22-year-old Kevin Durant grew in popularity. He announced on Twitter that he signed an extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the consensus was he was everything good that the now-infamous LeBron James is not—though all LeBron did was decide where he was going to play basketball.
You know where this is going.
July 4, 2016, Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors. Basketball’s most sublime scorer joined a record-setting regular season team that defied long odds, and was just one game from a second-straight championship. This made Kevin Durant infamous. Just a couple years ago, we as a basketball realm were rooting for Kevin Durant to win a title. “His time is coming,” we affirmed, knowing and supporting a player we felt closer to. In one decision—one choice for personal well-being to work with better co-workers that most of us would make and have made multiple times over—tainted our general perception of Durant. And we also overlook a key component of him joining the Warriors: he is their best player and the two Finals MVPs along with other factors prove that. So he didn’t lessen himself for the sake of winning. He accepted his role of superstar responsibility in the face of scrutiny and public shaming; shame that came only because he chose where he wanted to play basketball.
For two years and two championship seasons, we have picked at Kevin Durant. We label him sensitive, lacking competitive spirit, and other things that we believe most professional athletes to be that is rooted in being envious of their abilities (that’s for another post). He’s responded how most people would: by choosing when to directly respond with honesty and transparency and also tactfully responding in a way that isn’t too upsetting or mean.
Kevin Durant will be 30 years old before this season starts. He has had quite the journey in his career, and he’s now at a place we all desire to reach: where he will do what he wants and not care about those who do not matter to him. Playing NBA basketball is hard. Winning an NBA championship is really difficult. Wanting the best opportunity to do both those things is an ideal we support for any popular player—until they do something that will live in infamy. That’s what we wanted for him in the first place. It doesn’t matter how he obtained his two championships if he obtained them legally. There are a number of things you may call him, but they better include NBA champion.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse’s good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.