I have little doubt that someone in Kevin Durant’s camp told him to take advantage of the media circus surrounding LeBron James.
In signing with the Miami Heat, James went from being one of the NBA’s most beloved players to its biggest villain as he left behind so many of the traits that endeared him to fans across the globe: loyalty, hardship, defiance and the fact that he played for a small market team and run-of-the-mill city.
For many fans, James’ defiance was probably his most endearing trait. You ask what was James defying?
Just the pecking order of the NBA.
James represented the ideology that every dog has its day. He represented the concept that any team could compete in the NBA, regardless of its city, its history or its market size.
As long as that team drafted the right player,anything was possible; James was living proof. That was a large part of what made James the NBA’s golden boy.
In retrospect, it's easy to see that James’ defiance was anything but intentional, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20.
Now it's apparent that James didn’t really care about appeasing those grating, whining small market team supporters who act as though it's their God given right to win a title because of their underdog role.
Now it's apparent that James’ desire to win supersedes his loyalties or his desire to overcome competition for competition’s sake. For that, he’s become the bad guy.
This is where Durant comes in.
With Durant’s 2010 NBA scoring championship in the books, Carmelo Anthony’s star fading and James out of the way, Durant is undoubtedly the most popular small forward left in the league and he’s wasted no time capitalizing on it, offering subtle critiques of James and the current state of the NBA.
Let’s take a look at some of the sound bites he’s offered on his Twitter account this off-season.
“Yea I'm the leader and i don't take that role lightly...I wanna be that guy, why would i want anotha guy to take that from me”.
“Now everybody wanna play for the heat and the Lakers? Let's go back to being competitive and going at these peoples”.
Those quotes, as subtle and admirable as they may seem, just smack of “Look at me, over here! Hey guys! Look at me! Forget LeBron! I’m doing the right over here! I have the exact principles that LeBron heartlessly turned his back on! Let’s talk about what a great guy I am!”
What Durant has yet to understand is that positive media portrayal is a rollercoaster ride, and right now he’s just on a high.
Four years ago, Kobe Bryant was a selfish ball hog who was getting his just desserts for running Shaq out of L.A., incapable of winning even a single playoff series without him.
LeBron James was being hailed as Jesus Christ in a Cavaliers jersey, taking the forgotten city of Cleveland to new heights.
Meanwhile, Dwayne Wade was still widely considered to be the best of the three (remember that?) after his stellar performance in the 2006 NBA Finals.
How did that work out?
It's easy for Durant to critique James because he simply hasn’t been there yet. He’s at the stage where a first round elimination, which by the way, was the most successful season of his career to date, is still acceptable.
That’s why I take Durant’s critique of James with a grain a salt. Think about it: how easy is it to prioritize the spirit of competition over the quest for a championship when barring injury, you have (at least) the next ten years to get one?
Some people have anointed Kevin Durant as the NBA’s savior, but they don’t know how Durant will react when his star power grows and his quest for a championship intensifies. I honestly don’t believe that Durant even knows himself.
He hasn’t begun to think of his legacy. Why would he? It's far too early for him to worry about how he’ll be remembered after his playing days are over.
So how can Durant begin to criticize someone who can project to the end of their career?
Personally, I’ll need to see more than a first round elimination to accept Durant as the NBA’s personal savior, particularly considering that the NBA doesn’t need saving.
Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals saw the highest rating since Jordan’s quest for a sixth championship in ’98, and at the end of the day, whether to cheer or boo, you’ll be watching the Miami Heat this year.
You know you will.
The NBA’s doing just fine.
Durant may have earned himself a few extra fans in trying to discourage free agents from going to either Miami or Los Angeles, but he’s probably having a hard time seeing where these players are coming from because the view from his pulpit is a bit distant.