Two years, 54.3 million dollars. Those are the terms of the contract Kevin Durant accepted to play for the Golden State Warriors instead of re-signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The decision was shocking, yet not surprising.
Durant left a city that has praised him for nine years and a rising franchise that became consistent playoff contenders in the West. It was where he made history: 2008 Rookie of the Year, 2012 Western Conference champs, NBA Finals runner-up, scoring champion, seven All-Star appearances, 2012 All-Star game MVP, and 2014 league MVP. A franchise was built from the ground up beneath him — OKC WAS Durant! Durant was THEIR King!
But at the end of the day the Royal Highness of the lowlands needed some jewelry, the kind of which OKC never provided and he wasn’t sure ever would provide.
Durant’s decision did not just shake up the future of the NBA, but also put a stamp of approval on a new era between basketball and business within free agency.
In the 70’s and 80’s, superstar free agents weren’t recruited by other greats to play on the same team nor was much thought given to such things given more restrictive contract holdings at the time.
Still, the players of an earlier generation looked at playing in the NBA in a different way. No matter how difficult it may have been for each player to reach or maintain a spot at the top of the league, Michael Jordan never recruited Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to create a team. Each superstar wanted to be great by building their own legacy within their respected teams.
In 2010, LeBron James showed the lack of value his generation saw in that kind of thinking and started the “chasing the ring” movement from a superstar level by teaming up with two other of the sports best player — Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — each square in their prime in Miami. In doing so, James solidified himself as a champion after several failed attempts in Cleveland, going to four straight NBA Finals and winning two championships and two NBA Finals MVP’s in the process.
Six years ago, as the Miami Big 3 came to creation, Durant went on twitter criticizing superstars like James, Wade and Bosh for recruiting each other to play together on the same team, but that mentality changed when he opened the league up to sweep him off his feet for the first time in his career.
Durant’s ultimate suitor wound up not being a team that was average, or a franchise fighting for survival, he went to a franchise that was on top, rewriting history and changing the game of basketball. Durant is shipping his talents to a team that has played in the NBA Finals two straight years and won the 2015 NBA championship, a team arguably already flexing an All-Star lineup, one that featured the wherewithal to defeat his former team after the Thunder created a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference Finals just weeks ago.
OKC was never a bad team, they could have honestly been seen as a title contender for the 2016-17 season, but they couldn’t do enough to keep their leader home. Durant’s decision reportedly factored not just championships, but an overall quality of life and his future outside of basketball. With that in mind, I respect his decision. However, to leave your respected kingdom in order to strut around with a rival in the same royal court that saw one of your boldest defeats is cold-blooded and backstabbing, the kind of action not befitting one who could be a king.
After his time in exile, LeBron did come back home to fulfill his promise of winning Cleveland’s first NBA title, but he still started a trend that is now acceptable to the NBA and for the most part immune to criticism from most followers of the game (outside of the jilted city, that is).
James started the trend of ring chasing, but Durant took it to another level this summer; the phrase “if you can’t beat them, join them” has been around a long time but its more than just a catch-phrase now, it has a very clear definition.
Joshua M. Hicks is a sports writer and broadcaster and a recent graduate of Roosevelt University