Dear Kevin Durant:
I’ve seen people call you a villain lately, and I have to laugh. It’s silly. Nothing in your personality screams “villain!” I don’t think many people actually think of you as a villain. It’s a contrived storyline in an NBA spring when most of the storylines are contrived.
We’re bored. That’s all. You and your Golden State Warriors are 14–0 in the NBA playoffs. You are going to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers for the championship unless LeBron James does something incredible, like turn Tristan Thompson into Anthony Davis. And then you will celebrate with Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Steve Kerr, and … well, here’s the truth:
I’m less impressed with each of you than I was a year ago. Really. A year ago, Kerr seemed like one of the best coaches in sports. Now he seems like a hood ornament. The car moves just fine without him. Curry was a phenomenon; now he doesn’t have to be. Green and Thompson were essential pieces to a championship contender. Now they can have off nights and their team wins by 20.
And you … you and your Oklahoma City Thunder nearly beat the 73-win Warriors in the playoffs, which should have set up an epic duel this spring, except you bailed for Golden State, where the talent is overwhelming, and here we are: you, on the verge of a ring, and me, bored.
You may not care what I think. That’s fine. Nobody can make you care. But I’m going to explain it anyway.
The problem with your Warriors experience is that there was no struggle. You showed up, killed everybody and won. It was not surprising or interesting. It feels like a bunch of parents conspired to put the best players on the same Little League team. Sure, you’re going to win, but we all expected that as long as you stayed healthy. (And no, Kerr’s back injury does not count. Please.)
You have the two best pure scorers in the league (you and Curry) and two of the five best defensive players (Klay Thompson and Draymond Green). That’s it. That’s the whole screenplay. The rest is just special effects.
If I see one more analyst point to a piece of lint in front of you and claim it’s a hurdle, I’m going to get physically ill. Your coach couldn’t sit on the bench? Come on. You had to learn to “coexist” on the floor with Curry … I mean, really? This is like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett figuring out how to split the dinner check. It’s not adversity; it’s accounting.
This Warriors team is unprecedented in my time watching the NBA. Sure, there have been dominant NBA teams in the past, but the principals all had to build toward dominance. Michael Jordan’s Bulls had to go through the Celtics and Pistons. When Jordan came back from his first retirement, he wasn’t himself, and the Bulls lost to Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway and a rising Magic team. That’s what made the next year’s 72-win Bulls fun to watch. Jordan was reasserting his grip on the league.
The Shaq-Kobe Lakers lost in the playoffs four times—and were swept twice—before winning their first championship. They had one dominant playoff run, in 2001, but they nearly lost to the Trail Blazers in 2000 and the Kings in 2002. The James-Wade-Bosh Heat became interesting when we (and they) realized winning a championship would be hard for them.
Maybe the Spurs would have given you that challenge if Kawhi Leonard hadn’t gotten hurt. We’ll never know. But for now, it feels like Jordan’s Bulls signed Charles Barkley in the middle of their run. That would have left Scottie Pippen as a defensive specialist who didn’t need to score that much, even though everybody knew he could. Thompson was Curry’s Pippen. He was a lot more fun to watch last year, when the Warriors needed him to be the great player he is.
This is not your fault. A combination of circumstances—like Curry’s contract and a one-time cap spike—gave you the opening to leave Oklahoma City for Golden State. All you did was run through it.
You had a right to do it. But there is no way this championship will be as gratifying as a championship with the Thunder would have been. No intelligent basketball fan believes you found a missing quality inside yourself this year. You were a cinch Hall of Famer in Oklahoma City. You’re a cinch Hall of Famer now. You didn’t have to become a better leader, or become mentally tougher, or learn how to will your team to victory, or finally beat the last guy standing in your way. You just got better teammates. The End.
I understand the impulse that led you to Golden State. It didn’t really come from you. It came from us. We, as a sports-loving society, have become absurdly narrow-minded in our assessment of great players. We act like anybody who fails to win a championship is a fraud, especially in basketball. We assess individuals purely on the results of a team game. It’s idiotic. Somehow it’s James’s fault when J.R. Smith doesn’t make shots. And if you hadn’t won a title in Oklahoma City, some people would have acted like it was a character flaw, instead of one disappointing aspect of a spectacular career.
So enjoy your next two wins. Enjoy your championship. I’m sure some people will gush that you “finally did it,” as though this one-season steamrolling is a natural extension of what you built in Oklahoma City. It isn’t. That will be another contrived storyline. And some will claim that you are the best player in the world now, ahead of James and Curry, but that will also be silly. We all know that if we swapped you for James, the Warriors would be at least as dominant. And we all knew you could play at an MVP level. That’s why you won that MVP a few years ago. This series is not telling us anything we don’t already know.
I’m sure you know that winning won’t be easy forever. Players age and get injured. Opponents rise. In a year or two, the Warriors will trail in a playoff series and be in real danger of losing. That’s when I’ll be interested again. And I won’t think of you as a villain or a hero—just a great player who needs to squeeze everything out of himself. That’s one of my favorite parts of basketball. I miss it.