By now you've read the reports of all that went into Kevin Durant's decision to leave Oklahoma City for Golden State. Except, even with all the reports and the 48 hours we've had to digest it, it's still puzzling as to why he chose the path he chose.
Again, the reports paint a pretty clear picture. Royce Young's at ESPN was the most damning, but there were other telling bits of information, too, like in Howard Beck's piece for Bleacher Report in which a source within KD's camp seemed to throw Russell Westbrook under the bus.
That seems to be the key theme in all of this: KD's camp. The decision seemingly has less and less to do with Durant, and so much more to do with "sources close to Durant," or "those within his inner circle." Basically, the people who stand to make a lot of money off him.
Durant, for his part, has sat idly by while these people have done their best to control his narrative. All we have from Durant himself is his Players Tribune release. No "thank you" tweets. No interviews. No Instagrams. Nothing to humanize him. Just that Players' Tribune piece, which reads like a press release that was clearly written by those same people that continue to control his message.
That, in itself, is what is causing so much anger among Thunder fans. Remember, this is the same guy that gave one of the greatest speeches in sports history when he accepted the MVP award in 2014. That wasn't some pre-prepared statement full of platitudes and bogus reasoning that anyone with half a brain could see through. That was unfiltered, from the heart, raw emotion. No handlers, just KD.
That was the type of stuff that set Durant apart. It's what made him such a star to begin with. Who else would get up there and let you into their soul like that? LeBron wasn't doing that. Kobe sure as hell wasn't doing that. But there was Durant, celebrating the greatest year of his professional life with everybody that helped him get there, and he literally thanked all of them, one by one. And it was all so palpably genuine!
Hell, even as recently as a couple weeks ago, it was Durant talking about how this was strictly a basketball decision, and all he cared about was being around teammates he enjoyed. Reading those stories when they came out, it sounded like a reference to his Thunder teammates. He still referred to the Thunder as "us." Even his teammates weren't worried, as the quotes by Cam Payne and Nazr Mohammed would suggest in this Anthony Slater piece. Basically, all the values, emotion, and love Durant shared with the world on that podium in 2014 were still present.
And yet, that was still two years ago. And on Monday - 4th of July - instead of a heartfelt announcement, we received a 300-word memo with BS about "mandates" and "personal growth." It read the same way a CEO communicates "scaling" and "business opportunity" to his employees while he's subtly jabbing a knife in their backs. There's not a single drop of humanity in those 300 words. Not even when he's thanking Oklahoma City. Just corporate speak, which is what you'd expect from a guy that's essentially surrendered himself to others to speak for him.
Don't forget this came following a weekend he holed himself up in the Hamptons and took meetings with bigwigs trying to woo him for his services. Those meetings would have been fine if Durant himself wasn't the one saying how much he never wanted anything like that. He reiterated he didn't want to make it a spectacle, just a simple basketball decision.
However, 72-hours of non-stop speculation fueled by silence and an unwillingness to give any leads sure felt like a spectacle.
Again, this is a guy that once said during an interview he didn't like the nickname "Slim Reaper" because of its negative connotation, and that he'd prefer to be called "The Servant." Do you understand how dumb that is? But OKC fans let it slide. This was Kevin Durant, he's just a good dude that doesn't understand or care how lame of a nickname "The Servant" is. Or how badass and - gasp - marketable the whole Slim Reaper thing could have been. He didn't care about marketing or his brand. Just what was in his heart. And again, we loved him for it.
Maybe that shame's on us as OKC fans. But we really did buy his act which, again, makes all of this so painful. Any Thunder fan can probably recite the talking points we used in arguments with non-Thunder fans that loved to pick at our guys.
"Russ really is a great leader, and he and KD really have a chemistry you don't understand unless you watch them night in and night out."
"I know Oklahoma City is a small town and LA and NY are big markets, but KD really is different. He doesn't want all that stuff, just to play ball and make a difference in the community."
We truly believed that putrid drivel, like with every bone in our body. And now we look foolish.
Look, people change, and when you look at the basics of his situation, you can understand why he was perhaps itching for something knew. He's a 27-year old bachelor, which in itself can sort of explain why going to NorCal, where there is an abundance of successful 27-year olds for him to meet and be around.
Anybody that is or once was that age knows that's how it goes when you reach that point in your life. Your friends - or in Durant's case - your point guard, get married, settle down, start to do their own thing, and it's kind of on you to find out what it is that makes you feel complete outside of work. But before getting too far into those types of comparisons, it's important to distinguish that real-world work and sports-world work are just not the same, no matter how much we want to simplify his decision down to that basic line of thinking.
Still, you eventually reach a point in real-world work when you decide that you have to be practical. Maybe that means settling for a job you don't really want because it means you will have stability to raise your family. That's a harsh reality, but it's also what leads so many people to find true happiness in other ways. Is it selling out? Sure. But in a world where not everyone can be a superstar basketball player, sometimes you have to settle and find a new path to happiness.
Sports, though, at its most pure, is about competition. That is what makes this decision equally as puzzling. Because sports is a fantasy, not in that athletes are anything other than extremely talented humans, but in that they have the rare ability to never have to settle. Sure, a veteran may have to settle into a bench role at some point, but you still get to chase greatness while making a whole lot of money.
For Durant, someone who has always been so conscious of where he fits in that greatness conversation, seemed to understand this better than anybody. "I'm tired of being 2nd" was the famous Sports Illustrated cover, or as Young pointed out in that ESPN piece, it really did hurt him when Curry essentially took the mantle from him while he was out with a foot injury. Knowing all of that, he still essentially just chose the stable, safe route.
"You wouldn't blame someone for leaving Facebook to work at Google" is what we've heard over the last couple days. Which is absurd because that's not what this was. This was leaving Facebook to work at Google, only if Facebook offered to put his name on the masthead while Google promised him a corner cubicle with three other rock-star engineers.
Hey, maybe this is just the OKC fan perspective, and it really will be a blast for Durant to play with 4 Top-15 players. And maybe people will look back in 10 years and see the four rings they won and think of how great Kevin Durant was.
But it's hard to imagine that version of events would have cemented Durant's legacy as an all-time great the same way sticking with and winning a ring with OKC could've. Beyond that, we just finished an NBA Finals where LeBron essentially made his previous 2 rings pale in comparison by bringing a championship to Cleveland and toppling the Warriors in the process. So there's no way Durant didn't understand what a boon this would have been to his legacy.
Once again, this is where his phoniness comes into play. In every interview concerning the matter, he praised OKC, talking of how he wanted his jersey retired, how there were things bigger than championships, how he looks out his window and sees a community he helped build and jobs he helped create. Those are all true statements, and things the community of Oklahoma City is no doubt forever grateful for. But they're also what break those same folks' hearts even more.
That's because Durant no doubt still believes those things. After all, he's the one that once said he would like to model his career after Dirk Nowitzki or Tim Duncan.
But the heartfelt, emotional Kevin Durant now has new voices in his ear. And those voices aren't ones for sentimentality. They're not even ones for working hard and seeing the big picture. Why keep going through the struggle to win a ring - like Dirk did - when you can take a quick detour and one is all but guaranteed? That community will still be there, those donations will always have his name on them, his statue will always be in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. There may be more hard work to be done, but those things have done enough.
Some of this falls on his new teammates, too. Its been revealed Durant had ongoing relationships with Stephen Curry throughout the season; and Draymond Green - he of the famous dick-kick - was relentlessly recruiting him. So if we're going to fault KD for not accepting a challenge, we should also acknowledge that this so-called "all-time great team" essentially begged another great player to come make their jobs easier. In real life, fine. In the sports world? Where you just beat this dude in one of the more intense series in recent memory? Pretty soft move.
That's before you even read the quote in that Beck piece on Bleacher Report about how Durant had every intention of returning to OKC until they lost that series to the Warriors. Which is basically a roundabout way of saying "if you can't beat them, join them."
And hey, I'm just a bitter fan that feels jilted, and these guys likely are going to laugh their way to at least a couple championships, so their "soft move" sure looks like it will pay off. It just shouldn't change the fact that plenty of people will look at all of it with nothing more than a giant eye roll. You think Oscar Robertson was annoying THIS year? Just wait.
It's sour grapes, and we can sit and wonder until the end of time just when and why Kevin Durant, lovable human being, turned into Kevin Durant, brand. Heck, with the grim future of being just another small market team staring right at us, that may be all we have left to do.
We'll remember those moments when Kevin Durant rose to the occasion. When he made plays on the basketball court to bring this team more notoriety than its fans could have imagined when they first got a team in 2008. When he donated a million dollars of his own money to tornado relief. When he played flag football during the lockout with the local college kids because he was bored. When he spoke to the entire world about how great his community and his organization was while he accepted a trophy for being the best basketball player in the league.
We'll remember all of that.
And we'll also never know for sure whether all of it was genuine, or whether it was just one chapter in the building of his brand. Guess only Durant and the inner circle that he sold out to will ever truly know.