The Owning: Accountability, Perception And Kevin Durant’s Decision

May 30, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts during the second quarter in game seven of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
May 30, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts during the second quarter in game seven of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The backlash to Kevin Durant’s decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder goes deeper than a ring chase.

As the aftershocks continue in the wake of Kevin Durant‘s decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder and sign with the Golden State Warriors, one thing is becoming clear.

It’s not the dreaded creation of yet another superteam.

It’s not the complete upending of the balance of power in the Western Conference, or even the entire league.

It’s not Durant’s chase for a ring (though that’s part of it).

It’s that Durant didn’t own who he is, and why he really did what he did.

A recent article by Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman — one in a long line of articles and podcasts and video segments (Charles Barkley or Stephen A. Smith) excoriating Durant for his decision — spoke on this. In the article, he blamed Durant for selling a false version of himself to OKC fans, and blamed fans for believing it.

The article is tempered honesty, but the more brutal honesty lies in the comments section. There, a common theme emerges from the jilted faithful: you weren’t who we thought you were, KD, and you made us think otherwise.

And therein lies the rub. Durant, without question, owed it to himself to explore free agency and see what else was out there.

He was well within his rights to get his slice of the crazy salary cap, and to seek the best possible situation in which he felt his chances of winning a championship were greater, especially given his age (he’ll turn 28 in September, which is smack in the middle of basketball prime) and injury history.

What pisses people off (and let’s not mince words: folks are HEATED by his decision, running the entire anger spectrum on a scale of one to Latrell Sprewell), is that Durant didn’t own up to his reasons.

You got tired of being in a small market in general, and/or Oklahoma in particular? That’s cool. Just admit it.

Russell Westbrook‘s ball-hogging ways finally hit the nerve on reserve? Alrighty then. Just say that.

You wanted to not work as hard to get a ring, while not selling out completely and going to the less challenging Eastern Conference? Say it with your chest, then.

You wanted to silence critics and prove, once and for all, that you are an elite player — on par with your new teammates Stephen Curry and Draymond Green? Fine. Be that dude. [SI Jenkins second my whole life story]

That’s what hurt fans the most: That his “I love OKC, I want my jersey retired here” rhetoric was hollow.

Love him or hate him, you had to respect Kobe Bryant because he never pretended to be anything other than who and what he was: a professional ball player who loved the spotlight and wanted to win at all costs, while getting paid handsomely for doing so.

He made no bones about it and no apologies for it. Didn’t like it? Talk to the hand — the one weighed down with five championship rings. Bryant even rubbed it in the faces of fans, opponents and teammates alike. And cared not one whit if feelings were hurt.

Ditto for Russell Westbrook. He hears the laments about his ill-advised shots, refusal to share the ball unless forced at gunpoint, and interesting fashion sense and could care less. Westbrook will continue, as we say in the vernacular to “do him,” and you can kiss his True Religion-clad rear if you don’t like it.

David West made it clear last year that he was leaving the Indiana Pacers (and $12 million) to chase a ring. He signed for the veteran minimum with the San Antonio Spurs, believing they were his best option at the time.

When that didn’t pan out, despite a franchise-high 67-win season, West decided to put off retirement for one more year and join up with Golden State after the Durant decision.

He once again takes the veteran’s minimum because he only wants one thing at this point in his career: a championship (even though he once vowed not to be a guy chasing a ring, but I digress).

People respect that because West made no pretense of what he was doing, and refused to apologize for it.

Durant has never come to terms with who he wants to be. To his lukewarm “I’m Not Nice” Nike campaign, to his incongruent and unamusing scene in the “Favorite Player” Nike extended commercial (in which Bryant, unsurprisingly, steals the show), Durant seems to want all of the glory and increased endorsement factor of a squeaky clean image without the struggle to maintain it.

Paradoxically, he wants the respect of his peers by playing and acting like the battle-scarred dude from the streets of Seat Pleasant, MD that he is.

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He should ask Curry how that’s worked out for him and the rest of the Warriors franchise so far. In fact, he needs to holler at his new bestie Draymond Green, who is also a card-carrying member of the “I Don’t Give A Fig” club.

Green may be the only member of the Golden State team that emerges from this uproar with his image unscathed, because he has never backed down from his actions or motives — whether it’s his infamous groin kicks or his unabashed recruitment of Durant, Green stays true to who and what he is, and has an eviction notice for your negative feelings about the matter.

Like Bryant and Westbrook before him, you may not like it, but you have to respect it.

Unfortunately for Durant, who is so concerned with closing windows, he has missed the window to get the respect — however begrudging — that he really craves. If he had simply kept it 100 about why he was leaving, instead of a carefully worded PR piece, the furor over his leaving OKC might not be as loud.

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And his name would be in the “respected player” conversation as well.