Lie Down with Dogs

I am about to blaspheme: I don't like watching Kevin Durant play basketball.

Not because he isn't a great player. Because he obviously is. A fantastic one actually, playing on a team that under other circumstances I would be very excited about.

Not because he is on a day-to-day basis a bad person. Because what the hell do I know about that.

And not because everyone loves him right now, and I tend toward contrarianism. Because I'm at least that self-aware.

I bring this up at all only because of some recent traffic around the webs about KD. In the wake of The Decision, he's become the anti-LeBron: the unassuming, humble, no interests outside of basketball kind of player who's also awesome at his job and, therefore, embraceable by a public eager to prove what it assumes to be it's morality.

Shoals documented the most recent outburst over at The Works, wherein he describes an article by Tommy Craggs questioning the reliability of Durantula's public persona and Nate Jones's Twitter replies, reasonably suggesting to all that they keep a little perspective and neither make too much nor too little of KD at this point.

He then followed it up with a reminder that, whatever KD's off-the-court temperament and style, on the court, dude will fucking kill you. Softly but with fire.

All of which serves only to remind me how tormented I am about watching and enjoying Durant and the Thunder.

And it boils down to this: he plays for some of the men I find most despicable in professional sports. For those who prefer not to remember, Clay Bennett and his GWB-supporting partners behaved less than honorably in taking control of the Sonics and arranging events to allow them to relocate the franchise to Oklahoma City. And David Stern was an accessory. And they used as their grand excuse for their larceny that the people of Seattle wouldn't tax themselves to subsidize a for-profit private business. I think they're all scum.

Believe me I know that there are other scum owners in the NBA. I'll just write the words Donald Sterling and leave it at that.

I also know that the people of Oklahoma City see it all differently.

I further know that NBA players have to play where the draft tells them to play.

But players are autonomous moral actors. They make choices. They have soapboxes. They can and do speak, even if it results in fines. They have power and can use it to influence the actions of owners either to change or to send the players to other teams.

Durant has done none of those things, so far as I know. He has been silent.

Worse, this summer, when he (wittingly or not) transformed himself into the anti-LeBron, one of the actions that cemented that perception of him as person and player was quietly tweeting about this contract extension. Rather than take the opportunity provided by free agency to walk away from his villain employers, he committed himself contractually to giving them a significant portion of his prime playing years.

It should come as know surprise to me that, to most of the public, LBJ's prime time betrayal of Cleveland makes him a monster, but KD's commitment to work for monsters makes him a hero, but it does.

And because Durant has chosen a partnership with fiends, I find him tainted. I question whether he has any honor or, to be more charitable, what his conception of honor is. I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know, that to me, he's LBJ, and LeBron is the anti-Durant.

I also know, that because KD plays ball so well, and his team is so interesting, that this season (and his career) will be a small torture for me, in which each Thunder game forces me to consider whether honor requires boycotting their games; whether there is such a thing as honor in sports, work, or life; and whether the aesthetics of the game are a sufficient ethical palliative to overcome the calumny of the Thunder's ownership.


Dave M said...

This is a thoughtful, well-written piece. I think however, that you may be placing too much of a burden on Durant's motives, that you may be denying yourself (or thinking about denying yourself) the pleasure of watching him play, for reasons that he himself, might never consider. It may be, that the kid just wants to play ball. There has been so much attention, so much in the way of expectations, since the draft. He's now fully in the conversation about the best players in the league and I imagine that everybody wants a piece. OKC isn't a team that I watch a ton but I'll definitely check them out when they're on national TV. And, I just get the sense that he's trying to focus on the game and enjoy it and improve at it while he can. He seems like a guy who's maybe trying to keep a piece of himself intact. I could certainly be wrong, maybe there's much more to it. But, I prefer to think of it that way. So many players get caught up in the "business" and Durant just seems like he enjoys the court so much more than the other stuff. And, if that's not the case, than he's a damned good actor and kudos for that as well.

eperone said...

Thanks for leaving a comment. I've been busy and haven't checked the site for a bit.

I hope I've left room for KD to just be a kid, enjoy the game, and feel his fire burn. Maybe not, though. It's difficult to tell what's actual humble self-realization and what's calculated triumphalism taking advantage of a beneficial media narrative.

The sense I have of the latter is maybe part of what's irking me.

The other part is his apparent lack of reflection on who his partners and advocates are. If he lets them represent him long enough, it will only be more difficult to believe that he disagrees with them.

And last, there's still this sense that I have that the KD vs. LeBron story line actually has the script flipped: LBJ is the hero, KD is the heel.