(Spoiler warning - there are elements in this column that should be considered spoilers for Breaking Bad. Caveat emptor.)
You may have noticed that the final season of Breaking Bad, AMC's award winning show created by Vince Gilligan, resumed its final season this past Sunday night. To many of us who are fans, the show is a breakthrough examination about decisions and the morals on which those decisions are based. The show takes a consequential perspective, where a morally right decision leads to a good result, and vice versa. Walter White, the simultaneous protagonist and antagonist, makes decisions which have taken him to what looks like an inevitable hell-on-earth endgame.
Decisions have taken two of basketball's brightest young stars, in two very different directions. Kevin Durant's decisions have taken him to NBA stardom. Michael Beasley's decisions have taken him to punchline status. Durant is contending for a NBA championship. Beasley might struggle to stay on with one of the league's worst teams in the Phoenix Suns. While Durant's problems have been limited to keeping up with LeBron James as one of the NBA's very best, Beasley has struggled to keep his head out of trouble off of the court.
Though they've turned out very differently, Durant and Beasley came from the same situation–literally. Ultimately, it was their decisions that took them in opposite paths, just as decisions changed Walter White from a talented chemist and a perfectly decent family man to a greedy, selfish, morally relativistic killer/murderer.
Durant and Beasley were best friends growing up together in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area. They rose through the ranks of high school basketball together and played on the same AAU team, winning national championships together. Durant was named MVP of the 2006 McDonald's All-American Game. An year later, Beasley was named MVP of the 2007 All-American Game.
Both were considered elite prospects out of high school. However, they didn't make it without their own struggles along the way. Beasley bounced from school to school, playing for six different high schools across five different states altogether. He got booted from a number of schools for his childish attitude, and never really settled in anywhere.
As for Durant, he had to deal with the murder of one of his coaches: Charles Craig. You may remember this story, as it was the reason behind Durant's choice of 35 as a jersey number. Craig was 35 when he passed away, and he was one of the closest confidants Durant had in his young life.
Both Beasley and Durant overcame the challenging circumstances they were faced with. Beasley was able to keep it together enough to maintain his position as one of the top prospects (rated as the best recruit of the 2007 class by Rivals.com), while Durant remained dedicated to the game of basketball and found himself considered to be the second-best high school prospect after Greg Oden.
In Breaking Bad, Walt found himself in his own difficult circumstances. Within the first 30 minutes of the very first episode, we find that White is trying to manage a poorly paying job, a son with cerebral palsy, and subsequently and sadly, his own terminal lung cancer. He solved his dilemma by cooking crystal meth, calculating to the dollar how much he would need to make to ensure that his family would be provided for when his cancer took his life away. In the context of morally right decisions leading to good outcomes, this decision to become a criminal was justified by Walt's selfless intent to help his family. Indeed, Walt never meant to hurt anyone in the early stages of his journey to a life of crime. When he killed the meth dealers Emilio and Krazy-8, the acts were out of self-defense, and even then, it wasn't what Walt wished upon them.
For a while, life improved. Walt made his money, first with Tuco Salamanca and then Gus Fring. As for Durant and Beasley, they excelled in college basketball, earning multiple awards to their names. Both were unanimous first team All-Americans as freshman, and both have gone down as two of the greatest freshmen players in college basketball's recent years. Durant averaged 25.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists in his lone season with the Texas Longhorns and was the first freshman ever to win the Naismith College Player of the Year. Beasley' lone season averages at Kansas State of 26.2 points (ranked third in the nation) and 12.4 rebounds (ranked first) set Big 12 records.
Both players entered the draft after their first season in college, and coincidentally, both players were picked second overall. Durant was picked second after Greg Oden by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007, while Michael Beasley went second to the Miami Heat after Derrick Rose went to Chicago in 2008.
Up until this point in their respective careers, both players had generally made the right choices. To be sure, Beasley had a few problems in high school, but it wasn't anything that could deter him from what looked like certain stardom. Meanwhile, Walt looked ready to get out of the meth-producing business, initially denying even a generous $3 million offer from Gus to continue.
Different decisions influenced where Durant and Beasley went. We know where Durant is now: he's the second best player in the NBA behind LeBron James. Durant is the four-time All-Star and the scoring leader from 2010 to 2012. He's the MVP runner-up. He's the 25 year old leading the Thunder as they contend for a championships over the next decade.
Durant has made a reputation out of being one of the NBA's most humble and hard-working stars. He's kept his nose very clean in terms of staying out of trouble, and it's a decision that hasn't come back to haunt him at all. He's been signing numerous endorsement deals as one of the NBA's easiest stars to market, and he's even starred in a children's film. The same can't be said for Beasley.
Beasley? He made different decisions from Durant. Beasley's career has destabilized very quickly in the past few years. Beasley's first two seasons in the NBA were decent statistically but marked with issues off of the court. When LeBron James and Chris Bosh travelled down to South Beach to join Dwyane Wade, Beasley was dumped in a salary cap move to the Minnesota Timberwolves for just two second round picks. Beasley signed with the Suns last offseason, and has failed to accomplish anything of substance with them either.
Even before he made his NBA debut, Beasley found himself in trouble. At the NBA's Rookie Transition Program (a program designed to keep kids coming into the NBA out of trouble), Beasley was involved in an incident involving two women and possible marijuana possession. While no drugs were ever found, Beasley was fined $50,000.
Things didn't improve from there. In his rookie season, Beasley was fined multiple times by the Heat for "minor violations of team rules". The following offseason, Beasley tweeted these pictures of his back tattoos–with what was speculated to be marijuana in the background. That incident might have led to Beasley checking into a Houston rehab center just a few days later, although the report indicates that stress-related issues were also a factor.
Just two years later from that, the downward spiral continued. Beasley was caught with marijuana in his car. He got caught up in a scandal involving illegal benefits while in high school and college. There was this skirmish during the lockout at a street-ball game. This past season, he got ticketed for speeding only for police to find a loaded gun in his car. Then, an investigation for sexual assault came along. To cap it all off, he got arrested for suspected marijuana possession one more time last week.
That's a lot of bad decisions, and what is evident and tragic is how easily one bad decision can so seamlessly roll into two or three more. In chronicling Walter White's descent, he went from killing drug dealers out of self defense to watching passively as Jessie's girlfriend Jane choke to death on her own vomit. The guilt from this incident was part of what led into Walt becoming an emotional mess, as well as his own relationship problems with his wife Skyler, problems which were rooted from his original decision to cook meth, but became a full-blown crisis as his meth business began to attract attention. Eventually, White shunned his morals, even his relativistic ones, and chose to accept the $3 million offer from Gus. From there, Walt never saw the "light" again, slowly descending into becoming an empirical and murderous drug lord fueled by his own greed and ego.
Just as Walt's bad decisions have set him up for some type of final showdown in the conclusion to the series, Beasley's own decisions have set him up for a point of no return in the NBA. Walt's point of no return was when he finally made enough money but then saw his cancer go into remission and so all he had to show for his embracing of darkness was an estranged family and death threats. Beasley made plenty of money himself, but he wasn't able to become the basketball star that he could've been, and as we have seen in the past, the overabundance of weath can torture former NBA players for a long time. Compared to Durant, the ultimate NBA scorer with a silky smooth shooting stroke and numerous moves, Beasley is just an inconsistent and largely unproductive gunner that can't fit into a winning basketball system anywhere.
It's hard to say at what point Beasley crossed the line from promising prospect to NBA bust, or if he is even at that point. Beasley is 24, a year younger than Durant, and at that age quality players can reasonably expect another 10 years in the league at least. With Beasley however, it's hard to imagine now that he'll ever be what he could've been. The bad decisions have piled up to what looks like a point of no return, and just as Walt is fighting for his life, Beasley is fighting to keep his NBA career alive. John Gambadoro, a Phoenix sports radio host, believes Beasley could be done in Phoenix. If that's the case, where does Beasley go from here? Will any NBA team so much as give him a chance if he can't even stick with the 25-57 Phoenix Suns of last season?
The tale of Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley has been colored by decision-making. Durant has not made a single truly bad decision, and his standing as one of the NBA's most morally good stars has remained unchallenged. Even though Durant was faced with the death of his AAU coach as a child, raised by his mom, and questioned if he had what it took to make his mark, he was able to persevere and make it as a NBA superstar. Beasley's struggle of being unable to simply keep out of trouble in high school pales in comparison, and in hindsight, it feels like a microcosm of how their respective careers have panned out.
If Beasley and Walt are both headed towards an ending because of their decision-making, then maybe Durant represents the moral consequence of good decisions. Maybe, if Walt had might the right decisions as Durant had, he wouldn’t be looking at a life-or-death face-off with his brother Hank. Maybe, if Beasley had followed his friend’s footprints, he’d be a NBA superstar himself.
At least, that’s what Vince Gilligan seems to be trying to say.