Adam Silver doesn’t think it’s good for competitive balance that one of the NBA’s most-talented players, Kevin Durant, has signed with its most-talented team, the Warriors.
The NBA commissioner is supposed to think that way, at least out loud. He wants every team to be good, in the way that McDonald’s wants every one of its cheeseburgers to taste the same. Both want billions sold.
But somewhere in his quality-controlling zealousness, Silver surely has to understand the importance of having a villain. Having a straight, unending line of good or pretty good doesn’t make for good theater. We need a sneering bad guy, and the Warriors’ signing of Durant has turned the franchise into Public Enemy No. 1. Or, if that’s too harsh, then the Hamburglar.
Sports are better when there’s someone or something to hate. A player or a team or, if we’re lucky, both.
LeBron James, who led the Cavaliers to the NBA title over the Warriors last month, must have mixed feelings about all of this. His goal of back-to-back championships got a lot more difficult with Durant’s move from Oklahoma City to Golden State, but he might have lost his title of Lord Voldemort to the entire Warriors team in the process.
LeBron drew the scorn of great swaths of the country in 2010 for joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, and for the way he did it. He made his announcement during a national TV production that came with its own title (“The Decision”) and later made his introduction to Heat fans with pyrotechnics and gaudy predictions about multiple titles (“not two, not three …’’). He seemed oblivious to the approaching backdraft that would leave him with a six-year case of singed eyebrows.
But what’s there to hate about Durant? Besides being a phenomenal player blessed with long limbs and freakish talent, he is, by all accounts, a nice, humble guy. I mean, look at him. You’d bounce him on your knee if you weren’t convinced you’d fracture your femur, if not your tibia, in the process.
And what’s there to hate about the Warriors, other than the super-team angle and the fact that they’re really, really good? Stephen Curry plays a different game than everybody else, hitting shots from all over the court and making circus drives to the hoop despite having a physique more suited for Freshman P.E. than the NBA. His mouthguard hangs out like a baited fishhook, and that’s enough to make some people loathe him. But he’s a terrific player.
Klay Thompson? Low-key and great. Draymond Green? OK, he likes to use other players’ personal parts for punting practice. And he’s in trouble in East Lansing, Mich., after a recent incident with a Michigan State football player. But is that enough to bring the nation’s disdain upon the Warriors?
You’d have to be a party pooper not to enjoy watching the way they the ball. It’s the closest thing to teamwork nirvana that there is. The Warriors are not physically imposing, but they impose a style of play on opponents that leaves extremely well-conditioned athletes gasping for air.
I’m not sure how you stop great players from taking less money to sign with contending teams. I can’t think of a Collective Bargaining Agreement that would be able to address that, nor can I think of one that should. But Silver said it deserves pondering.
For decades, teams controlled players’ career movements. Owners decided which players played where. The only way for the Bulls’ dynasty (which is to say Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen) to happen was through smart drafting. Same with the Celtics’ and Lakers’ dynasties. When you hear players of those eras scoff at today’s athletes trying to engineer dynasties, you can understand their pride in having done it through “conventional’’ means. But it’s a new world, and players are allowed to choose their teammates. Get used to it.
We criticize athletes for being greedy, but when some of them take less money to try to win a championship, we criticize them for that. We’re stuck between our ideas about excess and our ideas about fairness. Basically, the players can’t win, even with championship rings on their fingers.
Hate Durant and the Warriors if it makes you feel good. I’m not sure they fit the traditional mold of scoundrel, but the important thing is that they are there for our deepest antihero needs. Filthy rich, ridiculously talented and in charge of their futures – whom do they think they are?