Vindication? Kevin Durant Wasn’t Trying to Prove Anything to You

On Monday night Kevin Durant’s 2017 NBA Champion t-shirt was damp with champagne. The goggles that protected his eyes from bottle corks and alcohol drops dangled from his neck. A smile as true as his jumpshot sparkled from ear to ear. He had just won his first title and was the series’ MVP.

Sitting in for a post-game SportsCenter interview with ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt, he was asked what he now sees in himself after accomplishing such a feat. “Nothing,” he responded. “This doesn’t complete me. I already knew who I was before this even happened. I’m going to continue to be the person I was yesterday.”

On the surface, this answer could seem like complete bullshit. Like, dude, YOU’RE AN NBA CHAMPION, THE BEST PLAYER ON THE BEST TEAM IN THE BEST BASKETBALL LEAGUE ON EARTH!

But on second thought, I understand why he’d say that. Today and, I presume, throughout the rest of the summer, many will write their think-pieces and essays about how—at last!—Kevin Durant’s decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder last year as a free agent to join the Golden State Warriors (the team that kicked him out of the playoffs that year) has been vindicated.

The idea is that his decision to go to a better team, one likely to go on several future championship runs with or without him, wouldn’t have been valid or accepted by the the peanut gallery unless he performed spectacularly (he did) and won this year. And like I briefly noted last summer, that’s dumb. Mostly because the man made a decision for himself. As the author of his life story, no one but him has the right to put their pen on his pages.

Kevin Durant, The Warriors and Dialogue With a Hater

Sure, Kevin could have done things the “hero” way and continued to toil and chip away year after year in a small town as half of the one-two punch Russell Westbrook completed. Maybe they would have gotten to the finals again (OKC had been before in 2012, and lost to the LeBron James-led Miami Heat). Maybe. But KD decided the next chapter of his life would go in another direction.

Then came the ridicule. People called him weak, soft, pathetic even. All because he didn’t do things how XYZ legendary veteran who may or may not have won a champion by staying “loyal” to the team that drafted them or was on a team where they were one of a maximum two star players (ie: Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller…).

 

Hell, even Nike released an ad right after his Finals-sealing Game 5 victory that addressed the naysayers—a minute’s worth of pundits arguing about Durant’s supposed mental and physical flaws and ending with him a champ in a confetti storm. “DEBATE THIS,” it closes. A classic, well-articulated “Fuck you, hater!” without being too crass for network TV.

So I totally get why Kevin would say he’s the same guy he was before the locker room bubbly bath. It’s a mix self-assured confidence and not wanting to let us know he gave a shit about anyone else’s opinions. Though he might admit later that he heard the chatter and that it motivated him a tad bit, I doubt Durant will ever say that he ever felt that he needed to be vindicated for his controversial choice.

If anything KD probably felt that he made the right decision after training camp and a few games with the Warriors during Fall/Winter 2016, when he was enjoying the music that booms out of practice facility speakers while Coach Kerr is running through Xs and Os. Or when he realized that playing for Golden State really is as fun as it looks on TV, with Steph Curry joyously splashing threes launched just inside half court and eagerly throwing him no-look passes on the next possession. Or when he got emphatic encouragement from forward Draymond Green.

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Kevin Durant wasn’t waiting for anybody’s approval. He gave himself the okay, And now he’s the champion he always wanted to be. Critics can say they don’t like how his story played out. But there’s no debating that.

It’s Great That Michael Jordan Spoke Up, But He Did Not Owe You That

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Celebrities don’t owe you anything past whatever made them famous. This weekend, when I go see the new Jason Bourne at the movies, lead actor Matt Damon will owe me a great performance. When I see the Saint Pablo tour this fall, Kanye West will owe me a dynamic concert. I invest time and money in you, you owe me a good job. That’s how it works.

That said, let’s talk about Michael Jordan, who recently released an impassioned statement about the rampant shootings of African Americans by police officers and the social unrest that comes with it.

“I can no longer stay silent,” he says before expressing disappointment about our nation’s inability to “find solutions that ensure people of color receive fair and equal treatment AND that police officers – who put their lives on the line every day to protect us all – are respected and supported.” He put a load of money behind his words and writes that he’s split $2 million and donated it to the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s newly established Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

That “silent” part is arguably (and unfortunately) the most noteworthy of the statement, because, to many, Jordan has skipped several chances to talk about social issues during his more than 30 years in the limelight as a star athlete. Unlike other Black sports icons like Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Jordan was quiet.

He’s infamous for allegedly responding, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” when asked to support North Carolina democrat Harvey Gantt for a seat on the Senate in the early ‘90s (his reps have denied this vehemently), thus beginning the storyline of a businessman so shrewd that he’d ignore issues bigger than basketball for the sake Air Jordan sales.

I get it: That’s a bad look. While Jordan paired with Gatorade and campaigned for us to be “Like Mike,” others bristled at the thought and wished he’d be like Ali.

Yes, it’d be nice if he was. However, the discussion ends there. It would have been nice and impactful. But Michael Jordan did not owe anyone that. There are arguments, sure, to be made about whether his moral compass should have guided Michael—a man that was easily one of the top five most famous people on Earth during his heyday—to use his platform to make the lives of people less fortunate (his people) better. Like Spiderman’s Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” True.

But understanding that being Spiderman means that you’ll likely get your ass kicked on a nightly basis, would you fault Peter Parker if he just said, “Fuck this shit” and quit the hero game? It’s both silly and easy to be an armchair general and say what you’d do if given the same opportunities as Michael Jordan or any marquee figure. Would you have had the balls to raise the Black Power fist at the podium like Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico? Would you have refused to enlist in the army like Muhammad Ali did for the Vietnam War and lose years from your career to serve time in jail? Would you risk movie roles or mega advertising dollars to stand up with the #BlackLivesMatter movement? Maybe? Definitely? Hopefully. But I wouldn’t fault someone who answered “No.” That takes a unique type of courage. Even current NBA star Carmelo Anthony said “it’s about time” Michael spoke out.

 

Also, it’s terrible to diminish the philanthropic efforts of a man of means, because it doesn’t benefit the specific issue or cause you want them to support. What’s wrong with Jordan donating millions to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, like he has? What about him being the majority owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats and the organization always having a Black president under his watch (currently Fred Whitfield)? And his Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational golf tournament has raised millions for several charities. What about that? Still, social media timelines and sports pundits alike became cynics when Jordan broke his “silence.” Some said he’s too late. Others clowned and wondered if it was more of a business move than a show of humanity.

I’ll admit that I laughed at that one. But my point remains: Michael Jordan doesn’t owe us shit. He’s not a member of a government office or some pseudo freedom fighter. Those people are out there. Count on them in these moments of brutal racial injustice.

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When Michael Jordan was a player and we watched in hopes of being awed, he owed you savage dunks and artful fade-away jumpers. Lock-down defense. If your pockets are deep enough, he still owes you sneakers that are so gorgeous and heralded that they make you feel you’re as fly as His Airness himself was then.

Alton Sterling & The Talk

But to be an outspoken leader and political advocate for African Americans whose impact was as great as it was when he hooped on the court? No. He didn’t. Never did. He still doesn’t. So instead of criticizing him for responsibilities he never accepted, let’s just appreciate that he’s here now. He did something extra good.

Kevin Durant, The Warriors and Dialogue With a Hater

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Kevin Durant | The Players’ Tribune

 

Yesterday, Kevin Durant dropped a line to the world via The Players’ Tribune and announced that he’s taking his talents to the Yay area to rock with Steph Curry and ‘em. The Warriors. The rich got richer, yeah. And that set the social media world and sports pundits on fire. So. Many. Haters.

Folks got mad at KD for taking the “coward’s” way out and signing with a team where he wouldn’t have to do all the heavy lifting. They’re mad he chucked the deuces to Russell Westbrook and the two-headed monster they formed in OKC for a squad that already has a three bonafide studs in their prime.

Here’s a one-sided convo I’d like to have with anyone hating Durant’s decision:

You’re mad at KD leaving to join a team where it’d be easier to win a championship?
So you wouldn’t leave your job for another one that’d be less stressful with a better—like waaaaaayyy better—staff?
You’re mad at KD for leaving, but you geek the fuck out with comic book nerd joy whenever Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk and the Avengers clique up on the big screen?
You’re mad at KD for leaving, but you loved “Mercy.” Swerve.

Sit your ass down. And let KD enjoy his damn life.