Still struggling to make sense of Kevin Durant’s accomplishment
I’ve been fighting myself over the Kevin Durant issue almost since the day he bolted Oklahoma City for Golden State. So far, it’s an exasperatingly even fight on all three judges’ cards.
At first blush, Durant’s move seemed like a fairness issue to me, just as it did when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami. Didn’t the Warriors already have a ridiculous amount of talent with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green? Adding Durant didn’t sound good for the NBA.
Yet free agents, not their bosses, get to decide if they want to remain with their team or go somewhere else. That sounds suspiciously like a democracy. That sounds good for everybody.
The little guy sitting on my right shoulder, the one in the Bill Russell throwback uniform, thinks it seems way too convenient these days for great players to team up in pursuit of a championship.
The guy on my left shoulder, who is a smart-ass, wonders if someone should have stepped in and stopped the Beatles from forming a band, what with the unfair concentration of talent.
Is the Warriors’ title worth the same as any one of the Bulls’ with Michael Jordan, won by teams that didn’t have the luxury of a free agent like Durant coming to the rescue?
Uh-oh, did I just start another Bulls-Warriors debate? Nooooooooooo!
In Jordan’s world, and in the world of many others, Golden State can’t be as good as the championship Bulls teams because the Warriors had Durant cannonball into their pool. He wanted to win a title and was searching for the team that would help him do it. When he settled upon the Warriors, they immediately announced they had indisputable proof that God exists.
The Bulls, on the other hand, were “stuck” with whomever general manager Jerry Krause drafted or acquired, including seasoned diplomat Dennis Rodman, whom San Antonio sent to the Bulls. As a player and as an ex-player, Jordan never missed a chance to make fun of Krause. But when Jordan sniffs that he and his Bulls teammates didn’t get to choose each other, unlike some players do today, he inadvertently falls back on Krause’s shrewd eye for talent for his argument. Interesting, that.
Look at the Yankees of the 1920s and 1930s. Babe Ruth. Lou Gehrig. Earle Combs. Bob Meusel. Waite Hoyt. Joe DiMaggio. Should any one franchise have had that much talent? Probably not, but it was amazing. The anti-Durant crowd will shout that the Yankees did it fairly, through their own acumen. Yet so did the Warriors, who took advantage of a current system that involves free agency. Rage against the system but don’t rage against the Warriors or Durant, who were simply doing what the present setup allowed them to do.
Many people found the NBA Finals bad theater because a Warriors championship was all but inevitable. That inevitability was even more impressive considering James had helped put together his own super team in Cleveland. I enjoyed watching Golden State’s teamwork, but every time Durant had the ball in his hands, it felt like piling on.
A lot of people said Durant needed to win a ring to be considered one of the best players ever. He did that, and now he’s being ripped for the way he did it.
We criticize superstars for being greedy, and then we criticize them for taking less money to win a championship, as Durant did by leaving the Thunder. Pick a lane, people.
Because I can’t.
Players move around. It’s the world we live in. It’s how AAU ball is. It’s how the Chicago Public League is, too, with players transferring left and right to try to form their own super team. Is that good? No. But it’s life.
If you ever played pickup games at a crowded outdoor court, back when kids actually played basketball at parks and not everything was organized by adults, then you know the winning team held the court until it lost. It’s why, if you were choosing a team, you tried to pick the most talented players who were standing around. If you didn’t, you might lose the first game and have to stand around for an hour before you could play again.
This is a little how the NBA is. Previously, it was the general managers solely doing the wheeling and dealing to get the best players. Now it’s the best players deciding which teams are going to dominate.
Durant obviously didn’t think the Thunder had enough talent to win a title, so he made his own move. Is he a lesser champion for it? I’m not hearing any talk of an asterisk just yet.
Baseball would have looked a whole lot different in the ’20s and ’30s if veterans could have sold themselves to the highest bidder. And no doubt something good and lasting, like the Yankees’ aura, would have been lost in the process.
There are two entrenched sides to the Durant issue, and I have one foot in each of them.
Let me say something that I hope will bring the two groups together: If Joe Maddon had managed the 1927 Yankees, Babe Ruth would have hit leadoff.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.