There is forever a pocket of Americans eager to cast villains without regard to facts, much less rational perspective. We’re mere weeks away from discovering what this means for Kevin Durant.
Durant is, by nearly every measure, devoted to his community and his country. The star forward’s latest public contribution came Sunday, when he scored 30 points to lead the U.S. Men’s National Basketball Team to victory in the gold medal game of the Rio Olympics.
As if that were not enough, he even placed his hand over heart while standing on the medal stand during the playing of our national anthem.
Durant, men’s basketball MVP of these Olympics, is an American hero, yes? A source of national pride and someone we can all appreciate – or at least it would seem.
Well, maybe not.
The Warriors open their season in a couple months, and the most debated storyline is the arrival of Durant, joining incumbent All-Stars Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Though Warriors fans are, by consensus, wrapping their arms around the new guy, if not singing his name while in the shower, there is within parts of the hoops community an undercurrent of scorn directed at Durant.
That sentiment started growing after Durant, a free agent, announced on July 4th that he was leaving a very good Oklahoma City team to sign with the even better Warriors. Cue the knee-jerk narratives: KD sold out. KD is a quitter. KD abandoned his really nice horse to hop aboard a nicer one. KD left his faithful wife of 35 years to run off with a 23-year-old porn star.
Durant didn’t actually leave his wife; he isn’t married. Yet much of the reaction to Durant’s move, even beyond OKC, is of that which follows fresh scandal. His decision to leave the heartland and come to the Bay Area is being spun by some who claim it is the move of an ingrate. A scoundrel.
Kevin Durant is, to them, The Villain.
Never mind the facts. The newest Warrior was drafted in 2007 by Seattle, which a year later moved to Oklahoma City without asking Durant’s opinion. Durant spent eight years in OKC, giving much and taking only what he earned as the best player on the Thunder. He was there for local tornado victims. He was there for hungry citizens, stamping his name on a popular sports-themed restaurant/bar. He also could be found on the court, sometimes uncovered, watching teammate Russell Westbrook launching jumpers from Nevada.
So, for the first time in his career, Durant cast any eye toward other potential employers. He then exercised the right to work elsewhere.
And now he’s The Villain?
Durant’s move has been described as bad for the NBA. Or weak. There was, in Oklahoma, the now-ritual burning of the jerseys.
Though it’s understandable folks in OKC would lash out in response to being hurt – Durant’s departure is a powerful blow to a place that has, among American metropolitan areas, a bit of an inferiority complex – the noise beyond is senseless.
Durant is the NBA MVP who 27 months ago, during his televised acceptance of the award, turned to his mother and tearfully referred to her as “the real MVP.” Class move by a guy who “got it.” He was praised, rightfully so, for recognizing context and commenting on it.
And there he was in Rio, filling the performance void left by Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, an international veteran whose production fell short of his dedication. Durant not only put points on the board, he also lit a fire under his teammates.
At a time when so many in America are marking lines and advocating for building walls, Durant was unifying Team USA – the most talented team in these Olympics – and pulling it together, ensuring it fulfilled its goal. No one is more responsible than he for adding gold to the red, white and blue.
Will that matter when Durant suits up with Curry & Co. once the season starts?
It should. In the wake of Durant’s personal history and now his stellar Olympics work, casting him as a basketball villain seems not only misguided but also asinine.