Personableness can carry a lot of weight. Whether or not someone likes a player can determine the trajectory of the player's career. In sports, being likable impacts the athlete's legacy. That is what the great ones are playing for. How guys are remembered, whether fair or unfair, in a lot of cases is determined by things that occur off the field of play.
I can recall Kobe Bryant being one of the most beloved athletes in sports at one time. The trajectory of his career was ultimately derailed by the events that occurred that night in Colorado. Even though he was exonerated, the weight of that night in Colorado will remain an asterisk in the court of public opinion when discussing his legacy. With that said, the greats have something.
LeBron James, contrary to his personality, became the villain of the NBA in 2010 after departing for Miami. The deal with the great ones in the NBA is they are often elite enough to overcome their circumstance. Bryant was the best player in the NBA for a decade, which allowed him to become polarizing. While you hated to love him, he loved that you hated him. Thriving off that, he was able to shed the backlash that often comes with being disliked by a mass of people. That is something not everyone can endure.
As LeBron showed during his stint as the villain, not everyone can handle that kind of pressure. Today, he finds himself beloved not so much for his personality, but for his basketball acumen.
Kevin Durant is slowly becoming the next NBA superstar to take on the villain role. Leaving Oklahoma City for the Warriors after being up 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals has left a bad taste in the mouths of fans. Understandably so, there is an argument to be made that Durant took the most accessible route to a title.
Sure, he left a squad that, had he stayed, would have been right back in the mix to compete for a title and he joined the likes of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. That will no doubt be up for debate when discussing his legacy. At the risk of sounding cliché, those who fall on the opposing side of Durant's decision often tend to agree with old narratives. Generational consensus suggests that he decided contrary to the competitive nature of the sport. The thought that Jordan would never have joined Isiah Thomas or Jerry West and would never have jumped ship are a constant in the narrative.
There is an alternative argument to be made for the decision Durant made. Oklahoma City was arguably the best team in the NBA during the 2015-16 season. As one of the best rebounding teams in the league, with two MVP-caliber performers and the size to bother the Warriors, the Thunder were built to win a title. Understanding that, if Durant did want out of Oklahoma City with the belief that the goal was to win a title, you are left with less than a handful of choices to join forces.
Those teams come to Boston, Golden State, and Cleveland. The idea that he would join LeBron in Cleveland is far-fetched, as LeBron represents Durant's only competition for the NBA crown. Boston would have been an attractive fit with the development Jaylen Brown and the coaching of Brad Stevens. However, that team, even with Durant, is not better than Cleveland without him or Oklahoma City with him.
That leaves Golden State. An opportunity to build a dynasty with three elite ball players in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. The choice from that perspective is obvious: if you want to win a title, you leave for Golden State.
Ultimately, Durant will have to be happy with the conclusion. He has paid the price for that decision and we are going to find out if he is built for it long-term. His actions following his departure would indicate that he is not. The sooner he moves on from the decision, the sooner the rest of us can stop asking him about it.
From the fake Twitter account to the jabs at OKC players and ownership, it is clear that he has not yet made peace with his decision, which is quite puzzling given he has a ring and a Finals MVP to show for it. Indeed, he should be happy to have the hardware, similarly to how his teammates alike are glad to have him. His feud with Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City organization are contrary to what Durant purports his decision to be about, which is a team concept. Their confrontation is a “me” feud, and the rest of us are left standing around watching, wondering what’s going on.
The problem for Durant, unlike his time in Oklahoma City, is he is no longer getting the benefit of the doubt. As a teammate of Westbrook, blame eluded Durant and found its way to Westbrook when the team underachieved. The idea that Westbrook wanted to be the alpha and refused to defer to the second-best player and best scorer on the planet late in games was prevalent. Some would argue that this narrative ultimately led to Durant wanting out of Oklahoma City, as he had exhausted the possibility of winning a title there. Times are different now. Westbrook is the reigning MVP and quickly becoming one of the most beloved players in the association, and Durant is the one caught looking funny in the light.
Winning tends to fix things or present opportunities to shed circumstance. Durant is in a peculiar place in that he is hated by many people for his decision, but is the best player on the best team built for titles in years to come. He will be at the forefront and the topic of both good and bad conversations, meaning he can become polarizing.
Great ones before him have entered this territory and thrived, with LeBron and Kobe. Whether he has the personality to capitalize on this opportunity, is left to be determined. Regardless, the decision has been made and we have seen the result, which should indicate he made the correct decision. Someone should probably tell him.