Kevin Durant is perhaps the most reviled public figure in American pop culture outside of confirmed sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. Old-school basketball fans hate him because he made the weak choice to join the 73 win warriors team. Young fans hate him because he engages in the dirt slinging on social media platforms on twitter with burner accounts which makes him soft and and a “cupcake.” Outside the realm of sports fandom serves him no better. Conservatvies hate him by default – either the MAGAheads who loathe him because he is an affluent successful blackman or the dwindling traditional conservative whose grievance is more generalized with what they perceive is a generation of spoiled babies personified in the unionized sports athletes who don’t even deserve what they get yet still ask for more. The non-basketball watching moderate left is largely indifferent, while I suspect the far left is equally opposed to his existance as he represents massive income inequality and sports themselves represent the capitalist mindset. (See the last thing I did)
Even among the fraction of NBA fans who support Golden State, there is a sort of lukewarm acceptance of Durant’s talents. There was always the underlying “but” – that no matter what Durant did – he would play second fiddle to Steph Curry regardless of who was the better player because it was Steph’s team: he was there first, and he was homegrown. Durant was the mercenary. The Warriors organization themselves enforced that message – being sure to have Curry be the last teammate to receive their championship ring at both ring ceremonies for their two titles together.
When Kevin Durant was injured, people whispered that, despite his prodigous talents, the Warriors were actually better off without him. In hindsight, this was mostly wishful thinking of a bloodthirsty media and fanbase. There is an aesthetic passing oriented approach to basketball that is Warriors which was often disrupted by Durant. Curry is Tom Brady – a “system player” in the sense that he will play within the relatively strict confines of whatever instructions he is given by the organization, whether that be to launch 30 foot 3 pointers, pass out of double teams, run around screens or set them himself. Durant is Peyton Manning – an unparalleled talent with a specific approach that everyone around him adapts to.
The problem is that watching 10 passes to get a wide open corner 3 is more aesthetically pleasing than watching durant dribble for 10 seconds to hit a pull up 3.
The other problem Curry was always easier to love than Durant. Curry is a family man – maried to a girl he’d known since high school playing the same sport for a living as his father did. His life was hand crafted to handle the melting glare of the modern media spotlight. He saw what it was like as a child. To some degree, he always knew what he would grow up to be. In his personal and professional life, his destiny has been set in stone. Kevin Durant grew up in a neighborhood where 80% of the residence were below the poverty guideline. There’s a trauma to that environment that never leaves you. His close friend was shot to death at a birthday celebration a few months ago. He described himself growing up as a quiet kid who liked to play video games. He has always been a little bit aloof. He never had Curry’s charisma. Even if the twitter burner accounts and the mercenary reputation didn’t follow him, he would be the least loved Golden State Warrior.
The thing about sports hate is it’s supposed to end at the buzzer. Kevin Durant is among the same elite tier of sports star humanitarian and charity work as he on his basketball prowess. He is by all accounts a great supportive teammate and a good guy. The worst thing he’s done is express frustration with the quality of teammates he was provided by his previous organization the Oklahoma City Thunder. (This, by the way, is not an invalid complaint seeing as how allegedly bad the OKC roster was remains the primary justification for awarding Russell Westbrook the MVP for leading a 6th seed 1st round exit playoff team)
There is a fairly obvious unspoken rule in sports that you are not supposed to cheer for injury of the opposing player. The reason for this is twofold: 1) it reduces the quality of play on the court which if you love basketball you should want to see the bestof the best. 2) More importantly, injuries affect the livelyhood and emotional well being of players. I think it’s fairly obvious where I’m going.
Kevin Durant tore his achilles after coming back from injury. Many of the attending raptors fans cheered with excitement at the prospect of their chances of winning increasing dramatically – completely uncaring of the unspoken rules. The counter response was usually somethign like this:
To be clear, I’m not meaning to shit on Doughnut4. It’s a perfectly rational thought to think the price increase with the NBA finals prices out people who care about the game and prices in people who only care about the spectacle and the social status of being vaguely associated with a winner.
Unfortunately, that thought process was also wrong. The reaction outside Jurassic Park, where the hardcore fans camped outside the stadium, was way worse. Many, many fans jeered and waved goodbye to Durant as he limped off the court, leaving absolutely no doubt that they were specifically happy about him being injured and not just Ibaka going coast to coast for 2 points.
Here is the typical reaction:
What I want to point out is the incredibly broad language. Now imagine if instead of “toronto fans” or “philly fans” with these statements, insert into them “Mexicans” or “Immigrants” or “women.”
There is a deep tribalism with sports teams that has become scary. Inherent goodness and badness of fandom is judged by temporary constantly shifting narratives based on difficult to prove values like “loyalty” and “class.” The existential dread is that the sort of blind furvor modern conservatives apply to American patriotism is now being applied to an arguably greater degree to literal corporate brand names and logos.
That is what sports teams are – corporations disguised as city community staples. Otherwise there would be no need for sports owners and no allowances for sports teams to move cities.
There is one other insiduous component all of this.
Tim Kawakami of the Athletic reported the following:
“There are hints that something changed somewhere in the last few days, maybe involving the recovery or the doctors or Durant’s decision-making process. It’s hard to get a real read from Durant because he’s dropped back mostly out of sight the last few days and he doesn’t sit on the bench during games the way Thompson and Looney did when they missed Game 3.”
All the hatred and animosity I mentioned above, the “softness” mainfested itself towards Durant in another way. There was the fairly loud implication by plenty of media and fans alike that Durant was simply choosing not to play in the NBA fucking finals because it would make him look bad I guess? I think the implication was either Durant wanted the warriors to fail to prove his value or he was afraid to fail because he wasn’t tough enough to play at 80-90% health like his compatriots.
And the Warriors never once bothered to loudly refute this report by the way like any competent PR team certainly would if they didn’t want this information floating around. Perhaps just that little extra pressure and motivation wasn’t so bad to make sure Durant would play in game 5.
This is what happened in game 5 of the 2019 NBA finals. An employee was pushed into doing unsafe activites for the sake of the company. The company used the media and the narrative to pressure that employee into doing so – turning the masses that worshipped their corporate logo against him to ensure he would play. They exploited Kevin Durant’s love for the game of basketball for profit. When he tore achilles, the fans of the opposite corporate logos cheered in delight. They didn’t care he might have cost himself hundreds of millions of dollars and shaved multiple years off the end of his career.
It is not an exact comparison to the day to day lives of the average worker. Most workers aren’t stuck in a monopoly (but by the way, the modern economy is trending closer to this by the moment). But plenty of workers face health risks in their employment, and plenty of employers will be happy to cut the cord the moment the health risks of their jobbreak them.
Thousands of fans in toronto cheered at another athlete’s career threatening injury for something so infantile as to experience the second hand joy of watching their preferred corporate mascot win the championship.
That is the Kevin Durant crisis. It is the ugliest and most prominent side of huamnity in the 21st century. It is total hedonism and complete nihlism.