Let me be up front…I have lived near OKC for a number of years now. The NBA’s Thunder is my favorite basketball team. Kevin Durant was my favorite player on that team. Not only is he an amazing athlete, he always seemed like a great guy. OKC fans loved his MVP speech, loved how his mother came to most home games, and how KD hugged her at the end of each game when she was there. If he’d have stayed, while I think he’d have ultimately won a ring or two, I am certain there’d be statues of him and streets named after him, etc after he retired. However, he’s gone, having agreed to a deal with Golden State.
I’m very disappointed. Once again, I’m a fan of a “small market” team jilted in favor of one with a bigger budget. What I’m not is angry.
Many of my fellow Thunder fans are angry, however. There have been jersey burnings, and insults like “coward,” “greedy,” and “traitor” thrown about. Certain talking heads at a certain four-letter network have said essentially the same thing. This is where the KD case intersects with MLB. Such emotional reactions happen every time a popular player leaves one team for another via free agency. MLB has more experience with it, since it has had true free agency longer. The classic recent example was Albert Pujols. I still see the occasional person write his name as “Poo-holes” and think himself clever.
Why do athletes change teams? Money and the hope for championships. If they say anything else, they lie. Professional sports is a business, period. It’s a business for the teams/owners, and it’s a business for the players. We, the fans, are merely customers. They don’t truly love us because they do not know us–it’s not personal. What they owe us is their best effort, for the term of their contracts and nothing more. Even if they could know us all and feel like family–family members sometimes move away too, don’t they?
It is not treason. The notion is actually absurd. Sports is not war. Fan groups like to call themselves things like “Red Sox Nation,” but we are not countries unto ourselves; and others are not foreign powers. Once a contract has been fulfilled, the contract employee has every right to sign a new contract with whomever they wish. NBA and MLB contracts also do not have non-compete clauses either.
Greed? Well, maybe, but who doesn’t take the best salary they can get? Is not maximizing income one of the cornerstones of capitalism? NBA free agency is different than MLB free agency though, in that there is a cap on the money and years a free agent can be offered–and the incumbent team can offer more than other teams. The cap went up a lot this year. It’s going to go up a lot more next year. It was a given therefore that Durant was going to sign a deal with a one-year opt out in order to really cash in next summer. What a lot of folks (including me) failed to add in was that actually meant was (if he was going to leave) the departure would occur this year as now the new team becomes the incumbent that can offer the max deal next year. As always, follow the money. (Note: He also has a 10 year , $300M deal with Nike. It’d be zero surprise if Nike indicated to him they like the idea of him playing in CA better than in OK too…or his own idea for more endorsement opportunity as well.)
Cowardice? Please. Staying in OKC wouldn’t require bravery. It’s a fine city, and (with him), the team had an very good likelihood of winning an NBA championship. However, obviously that chance is even greater in Oakland.
In the end, Durant is moving on to a team where he believes he will win rings and where he will be giving up no money/may make even more. In retrospect, his decision was pretty obvious.
Post-script: There is one group I will understand if they feel betrayed–employees of KD’s restaurant (called KD’s). It serves excellent southern food in an upscale atmosphere in Bricktown. It’s an excellent location, usually has an hour or longer wait, but I’m afraid it’s doomed now.