A few summers ago, LeBron James had to embrace the villain role. He bounced from his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers and took his talents to South Beach. While forming a “super-team” with the Miami Heat, alongside his buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, he easily became the guy to root against. It seemed like a move of desperation, on his part, to win the title. Some even accused him of taking the easy way out. Years and three championship rings later, it all seems to make sense now. Not only was it the right move, but it changed him not only as a player and enabled him to grow as a leader. All of the hate and backlash he received has slowly faded away, as it usually does when you win.
Fast forward to this summer and another superstar finds himself in a similar position. Kevin Durant was the most coveted free agent this summer, with some teams even clearing cap space for the chance to land his services (dating even back to last season). Durant stunned the sports world by signing with the Golden State Warriors. The same Warriors that not only set the single-season record for wins in a season (73) but also came within one game of becoming back-to-back NBA champions. This was not exactly a team that was desperate to win or had a lack of talent. He will be joining a fearsome trio of back-to-back MVP Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, & Draymond Green. Let’s not forget to mention that the Warriors defeated him in this year’s Western Conference finals.
With criticisms reaching a high level and humiliating meme’s taking it even one step further, Durant has become villain #1 in the NBA these past few weeks. He recently spoke about having to stay in his room for a few days after he made his decision because he was depressed about letting so many fans down. NBA commissioner Adam Silver even spoke up and said that he thought Durant’s move to the Warriors was bad for the league…I may be one of few when I say this, but can anyone blame the guy?
How can we knock Durant for wanting to win? This contract he signed with the Warriors wasn’t because of the money. There was no hometown reunion that pulled him in. It was because one of the best players in the league no longer wanted to settle for watching the NBA finals from home. Durant wanted to ensure each and every year; he has the best shot to get there. Isn’t that why we play the game? You want to be remembered for how you WIN, not remembered for how you routinely came up short.
Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, and Reggie Miller; what do they all have in common? They were all great franchise players who never won a championship. It will always be one of the first things remembered when you discuss their careers. Something they weren’t able to accomplish. I’m sure some of those guys would trade in all-star appearances and MVP trophies to have a championship ring on their finger… So can you blame Durant for trying his best to avoid the top-ten list of NBA players who have never won a ring?
It’s a new era in the NBA, and as fans, we simply have to accept this for what it is. Yes, we know twenty-thirty years ago some of the NBA greats would have never thought about joining forces. Staying with one team and reaching your goal with that team was much more valued. However, just like all things in life, things change. The NBA game is different now then it was then, and it speaks volumes as to why so many of the league’s best players are looking to join forces. It’s nearly impossible in this league to win by yourself and all of these stars realize it. If you want to win in this era, you have to make a decision that might not be supported by many.
Kevin Durant’s situation is slightly different because he already did play with one fellow superstar, Russell Westbrook. They were a dynamic duo who, despite one NBA finals appearance together, seemed doomed from the start. Westbrook is a shoot first point guard and the duo had a hard time figuring out when to defer to the other. The Thunders offense was a lot of isolation plays between the two that often led to contested shots or the other holding the ball for most of the possession. The Thunder won an impressive 55 games last season but blew a whopping 14 games with a lead going into the fourth quarter. Just imagine how good the Thunder could have been if Durant and Westbrook had fixed their chemistry issues late in games. With his bold move to the Warriors, Durant saw a prime opportunity to join a championship that has no problem being unselfish and sharing the ball. He saw an opportunity to evolve as a player and to join a new culture he had not been a part of for the first 8 years of his career. Durant has talked about wanting to enjoy every day playing this game, and he’s definitely got a better chance of that while playing for the Warriors vs. the Thunder.
Did Kevin Durant take a risk and decide to follow the road less traveled by signing with the Warriors? Yes. He will be the villain us fans crave for each and every season. The one fans root for to fail (they will root even harder against the Warriors also). I believe though that he knows what he’s gotten himself into, and I think that the quicker he embraces his villain role…the better it will be. He needs to go full WWE heel turn and put on his best Razor Ramon impression. He has to look at all these critics in the eye and smile while saying “say hello to the bad guy!”
The pressure is on, and if Durant does fail, you can bet people all over social media will be sure to remind him. Luckily for Durant, winning usually heals all wounds and his Warriors seem to be headed for plenty of that. You can hate Kevin Durant, you can hate the Warriors but, you simply can’t hate his decision to want to win by any means necessary. Winning is supposed to trump all when it comes to sports, so I ask this again… can you blame him? I don’t.