The perennial occurrence in the basketball world is becoming the Golden State Warriors winning the championship. With that result, questions are continuing to abound as to whether this type of dominance is good for the league.
The player at the center of this discussion has been Kevin Durant. He has now won two championships in the two years since he famously signed with the Warriors as a free agent.
It annoyed a lot of basketball fans that Durant would willingly choose to go to a team that was already arguably the best team in the league.
Many fans wanted Durant to show more of a desire to beat the Warriors than to decide to join a squad that was already legendary in its own right.
After all, imagine if Patrick Ewing had left the New York Knicks in free agency to join Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen with the Chicago Bulls.
Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports has a great story about Durant’s recent answer regarding people’s concerns that he harmed the league with his decision.
He emphasized that he has a responsibility to himself first and foremost, and that clearly the league is doing fine since it’s making immense amounts of money.
He raises an excellent point. The value of franchises within the league is continuing to go up, and the lucrative TV contracts have allowed the salary cap to skyrocket compared to where it was just 3 or 4 years ago.
Interestingly, that new money coming in was what gave the Warriors the cap space to even make the Durant acquisition possible.
There’s certainly ammunition for the critics of this Warriors team to claim that the team is not good for the league long-term. Ratings for the 2018 Finals came in way lower than the metrics from the 2017 NBA Finals between these same teams.
That doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Often it depends on what day of the week a given game is held on. The playoffs altogether were either up or steady heading into the 2018 finale compared to last year’s numbers. Obviously, a game 7 is also going to draw higher ratings than a game 4 where a team is already up 3-0 in the series.
To blame the Warriors for a problem like this is really abdicating responsibility for the other teams in this league. Not to mention the fact that the NBA has a history of dynastic franchises, and the spans of time looked upon most favorably tend to involve dominance by one or two squads.
The 1970s serves as a great example of this. That was the last decade that basically featured a different team winning a championship every year without prolonged success from one squad.
The glory days of the NBA are most often viewed as the 1980s and 1990s. Those years were filled with multiple championships from the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls, and even the Houston Rockets in the seasons when Jordan was on his baseball sabbatical.
Those dynasties were seemingly formed in the “right” way, though. It didn’t involve a superstar willingly joining a dominant team.
That assessment conveniently leaves out the fact that the Warriors were a dominant team long before they signed Durant, though.
They drafted phenomenally well, made smart trades, and only then were able to lure a generational talent to an already historically great team.
The anger towards them seems misguided because their success is the result of brilliant roster transactions and player development
Also, any team with the necessary payroll flexibility in the 2016 offseason would have gone after Durant. Aren’t teams supposed to look into every possible scenario in order to make themselves better? That’s the whole point of competition.
So if disgruntled fans aren’t blaming the Warriors franchise as a whole, then they must be focusing their animosity solely on Durant.
Supposedly, Durant should want to succeed with the team that originally drafted him or sign with another team that’s not as good as the Warriors.
This is an unfair stipulation on players. Under this model, a player is subjected to the decisions made by a front office that aren’t always wise.
The player risks toiling away a career waiting for executives to surround him with the right combination of players to win a championship. That’s a lot of faith to have in an organization, and the stakes are just way to high for players to risk it.
It might be accurate to attribute Durant’s decision to sign with the Warriors the preeminence “legacy” discussions orchestrated by fans more than anything else.
Cable news and social media have created an environment in which barbershop-style discussions of greatness can be held on a massive scale. It’s impossible for players to not be well aware of this.
Imagine a hypothetical universe where Durant stays with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the rest of his career and doesn’t win a championship.
He’s then sentenced to an eternity of disrespectful taunts from fans who discount an otherwise phenomenal career because he doesn’t have the hardware.
Guys like Charles Barkley and Karl Malone would immediately jump 10-15 spots in these subjective historical rankings if they had a championship.
Put yourself in Durant’s shoes. Let’s even take out of the equation that he gets along great with Warriors players and has fun playing with those guys.
If you were given an opportunity to go somewhere that offered you a fantastic chance to win championships, would you go?
Add to that the reality that you might be forever skewered by people who’ve never played professional basketball because you never won a ring, maybe through no fault of your own.
Injuries could hit, draft picks could bust, dumb contracts could be handed out by the front office that sets a team back. Far too much emphasis is put on winning championships in what’s a team game. One guy can’t do it alone. A lot has to go right that’s out of his control.
Fans have somewhat of a complex relationship with athletes. They objectify people that they’ve never personally met and hold them to arbitrary standards of conduct that are often contradictory.
For example, a player is selfish if he signs for a huge sum of money. That player then gets labeled as “caring more about money than winning.”
Durant is the polar opposite of that. He forfeited huge amounts of money to put himself in the best situation to win, which is what fans supposedly applaud in players.
Apparently, it’s not celebrated in this case, though. Durant is now seen as “mentally weak” for prioritizing winning and not demanding to be the alpha-dog elsewhere.
So apparently he’s now “mentally weak” for not showing self-centered and egomaniacal tendencies that fans have lamented about in professional sports for decades.
Players are beginning to figure out that there’s just no pleasing some people, and are rightfully making decisions that optimize their happiness as well as the happiness of their family and friends.
If I had to give Durant advice, I’d probably say something like this: “Don’t let any of the fan chatter bother you. Remember that the same people who say things like ‘you’re ruining the league’ are the same people who would have said you’re a bum if you had ended your career without any championships.”
The Durant hatred is so irrational, and it’s a shame that it has gone on for this long since his free agent decision. Clearly, it’s going to reemerge as an issue each time the Warriors attain a noteworthy team accomplishment with Durant on the roster. Durant just needs to tune it out the best he can, and keep having fun with this phenomenal group of players.