By now, we’ve all seen the social media comments made by our departed number 35, a player who inhabited the Thunder home locker room for 9 years and then left in 2016. Recently, #35 decided to comment via his main Twitter account (and not on the ghost account he thought he was using) that his past Thunder teammates just weren’t up to snuff.
To a lot of Thunder fans, myself included, Durant’s comments boomeranged us back to something we are honestly trying to move past. Durant went to where he wanted to be, he got his ring, and yet over a year later, he still can’t seem to let go of the past. I think that, by now, we should be well past the time to do just that. But this whole situation points to a the concept of what a true team is. What Durant left behind was a team, what he joined was a team, but is he a true teammate? What is a true teammate really like?
Just going back a few short years, we saw what poor teammates can do to a locker room. In 2014, the Thunder saw a player in Reggie Jackson nearly tear a locker room apart before two of his teammates managed to pull it back together. Jackson’s antics at the time were seen as childish attempts to get traded after not receiving the status he thought he was due. Jackson eventually did get his wish, but in those contentious moments, two Thunder greats (including the original silverback Kendrick Perkins) froze Reggie out and got him to buy in just enough to keep the team together. Keeping the team as a single entity is one of the key things this Thunder unit has always done.
One of Durant’s ex-teammates spoke on CBS Sports Radio recently and gave a pretty good example of what this looks like. Enes Kanter may be a lot of things on the court that cause divisiveness towards his value, but at heart he’s a good kid and a great teammate. Here were a few of his thoughts on Durant’s Twitter comments:
“Well, I’m not angry. It’s just really sad,” Thunder center Enes Kanter told Andrew Bogusch. “I remember when he was here – I played with him one-and-a-half years – and when he was here, this organization and these fans, this whole state, gave him everything he asked for, everything he wanted. The cooks, the chefs, the massage therapists, the coaches, players – everything – just (to make) sure he is okay and getting what he wanted to get.”
“I feel like the good players win championships, but the great players, they never blame each other,” Kanter continued. “They always take responsibility and they never blame each other. I remember there was one point in playoffs that we’re losing and they asked Russell about his teammates. He said, ‘We’re in this together. We don’t blame each other. We don’t point fingers. If we lose, it’s our fault. It’s not the coach’s fault, this guy’s fault, his fault – no, it’s everybody’s fault. Because we’re in this together.’ That’s why we don’t really point (fingers) and try to blame each other.”
At age 25, Enes understands what being a teammate is all about, even when discussing an ex-teammate. It starts with respect.
Russell Westbrook gave another example of a true teammate as well as a strong leader. In this post-game interview after a first round playoff loss against the Houston Rockets, NewsOK’s Berry Tramel posed a question to Steven Adams that Westbrook felt was divisive:
Russell Westbrook goes off on reporter who asks about team's play while he's on the bench pic.twitter.com/oikTf0GxCj— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 23, 2017
The quote (transcribed from USA Today, bold added):
“Hold on, Steven. I don’t want nobody to try to split us up. We all one team. Regardless if I go to the bench, if Steven is on the floor, if I’m off the floor, we in this together. Don’t split us up. Don’t try to split us up, make us go against each other. Try and make it against Russell and the rest of the guys. Russell against Houston. I don’t want to hear that. We’re in this together. We’re playing as a team, and that’s all that matters. That’s it.”
Like Enes, that is a teammate, and a leader. Tramel wasn’t happy about his question being intercepted, and wrote as much in his article the next day. But Tramel’s question was a catch 22 scenario with no way to answer it in a positive manner, so Westbrook stepped forward and took it on the chin knowing that Tramel’s article would call him out on it (as Tramel has done so many times in the past). But Westbrook did so rather than risk that Adams, participating in his first playoff interview, or any of his teammates for that matter, might be put in a bad light.
These are the guys, the team, that #35 left behind. They don’t have 2 top-five players accompanied by two other All-Stars, and no, they still haven’t won a championship. But so what? They are our team. And every single day, they make us proud by demonstrating what the Thunder are all about. They are a team worth cheering for.
Training camp begins in less than a week, a new season soon shortly after. I’m ready to replace the memories of the past with new and hopefully more exciting ones in the future. I hope #35 is ready to do the same.