As with the stories of the few superstars that have preceded it, the story of the ascension to fame of Kevin Durant has been a spectacle through and through. In the few years that Durant has been in the league, he has amassed an enviable collection of accolades: MVP, four scoring titles, seven All-NBA teams, and eight All-Star teams, just to name a few.
On the court, Durant is an unstoppable force to be reckoned with, both offensively and defensively. Offensively, he is a triple-threat player, able to exploit defenders’ holes and post up, drive in, shoot from seemingly anywhere, and pass at will, all with an agility and footwork that is virtually unmatched. His lean, seven-foot frame, combined with his acute awareness and vision on the court, necessitate a defensive strategy that prioritizes a disproportionate focus on neutralizing him as soon as he touches the ball. Defensively, his wingspan and quickness allow him to wallop balls in mid-air in a split-second, whether it involve defending layups or pull-up jumpers.
Off the court, Durant has a demure demeanor, but in years past has also exhibited an incisive ability to shut down reporters’ inane questions, a unique combination of humility and confidence that balances precariously between the extremes of crippling self-doubt and arrogance. In essence, Durant knows when to assert himself, but mostly settles into a sort of rhythm of quietude and focus that complement the smoothness with which he moves on the court.
Yet this humility doesn’t just stop at his deflection of questions about his greatness, which questions are just attempts at flattery, a pathetic tendency of journalists to curry favor in their interviewees’ eyes. No basketball fanatic can deny the raw and powerful message that Durant drove home to his mother when giving his MVP acceptance speech: “You the real MVP.”
Strange isn’t it then, that this very Durant, a superstar in his own right, endorsed by Nike and Gatorade and the like, who used his MVP as a platform not to boast about his greatness but to be real, talking about the struggles of growing up in D.C. as a black kid in the midst of obstacles that no white kid could ever imagine; talking about how his mother made sure to put food on the table, even as she herself would go hungry—this very Durant, who donated $1 million to the Red Cross in 2013 for disaster relief of the tornado that obliterated parts of Moore, and who continues to donate through his charity foundation to struggling children in OKC, would be skewered by social media for his decision to leave the Thunder and join Golden State?
I brace for the storm of interjections: “but he went to the best team in the league,” and “he’s still a traitor,” and that, claim more astute observers, “he upset the balance in the league.” And there are some fair points to be made here, most of which are blown out of proportion from the understandable dismay that devoted OKC Thunder fans felt upon his departure.
But if you take a step back and really soak it all in, it should seem bizarre that everyone was, and still are, up in arms in the first place. If there’s anything to be taken away from the unrest, it is that this very unrest speaks volumes about the elite company of franchise players in which Durant has seated himself, whose talents surmount every other player in the league. No one bats an eye when someone like Matt Barnes moves around from team to team. He’s a great player, don’t get me wrong, and it goes without saying that any NBA player is among the best players in the world, probably within the top 0.001% of the world’s basketball players (a rough estimation that is made difficult by the blurred lines that distinguish professional basketball players from recreational ones); however, Durant is easily one of the top five players in the league, a distinction that has come to be accepted over the years with such unwavering conviction that whenever he left the Thunder, the populace followed very closely, thumbs tapping on screens in anticipation, almost as though the matter of his departure was not a resolution in itself but the exposition of a climax yet to be presented. His fans had to go through a grieving process and still are, which grieving I find to be deplorable for the primary and hopefully obvious reason that one should never live vicariously through others, especially celebrities, which is an inadvertent consequence of the cult of personality in which we find ourselves in contemporary society.
Yet this usage of the term “cult of personality” is an operational one, for it departs from the intended definition by the sociologist Max Weber to describe an authoritarian who leverages his position to mythify and elevate his persona such that he effectively becomes irrefutable: his charisma has been painstakingly manufactured and disseminated to such a prevalence that the boundaries between truth and fiction have become blurred and there’s seemingly nothing the authoritarian could do to err by the eyes of the public. And it is operational because it is not Durant himself who had constructed the aura of the inerrant, humble man who could in turn do no wrong by the eyes of his fans and the world at large—far from it. It was the media that artificed this image of perfection that obviously no one can meet, one commingled with Durant’s piety that in such a way he was elevated almost to a modern-day prophet, a man of seemingly boundless talent and compassion who uses basketball as a platform to give glory to the God, however the story goes.
And it isn’t purely out of ill or selfish intent that the media erected this image; Durant is indeed a humble and pious man whose charity cannot be questioned. With his unique personality, Durant proffered a fresh interpretation of what the basketball superstar could be: one that didn’t encompass a hyper-masculine player whose aggression was palpable on and off the court.
But if piety is to be measured by charity, it is also measured by loyalty, an unspoken obligation that Durant’s fans and the media alike have held him to, as if the timeline on his contract and his subsequent discretion in his free agency were just farces—as though by virtue of his being such a good person he was expected to meet every stringent criterion of godliness that became part and parcel of his mythos—as if, and I will not dial back in saying it—he is not a free man.
So say what you will about his decision to leave the Thunder, but if your argument is to be predicated on his disloyalty, which disloyalty has been likened to that of a snake, which in turn in the Bible is synonymous with that of the serpent or Satan, dare I say that you are grossly mistaken.
Durant is not disloyal: he’s a human being who cannot be neatly categorized into reductive and immutable traits. He’s a free man who can do what the fuck he wants, because as far as I’m concerned, he didn’t break the law, did he?
He just broke your heart.
So take some time off, take a walk, and get over it. You’ll be alright.
Kevin Durant deserves respect and will invariably get respect in the eyes of posterity—or so I hope.