Unless you’ve been living on Mars or successfully avoided TV, radio, internet and social media, in the past few days, you know about the Kevin Durant-Twitter replies story. I won’t bother rehashing the narrative, as it has been sufficiently covered.
But I’m interested less in what Kevin Durant did than why he did it — and what people think of his actions.
One can certainly understand wanting to push back against those who challenge you or call you out. And if one has access to multiple Twitter accounts, which is not unheard of for professional athletes, one might want to make their point using those different (online) voices. Most people will speak up in one way or another if they are being attacked by someone. It is not unheard of — and, in fact, natural.
But Durant, both by responding to his critics online and by having different accounts to make those responses, has somehow committed a transgression that denigrates him and lowers his standing. One need only look at Michael Rosenberg’s piece for SI.com — “Kevin Durant's Twitter Antics Prove His Critics Right” — to see this on display.
Rosenberg claims “Durant just admitted that criticism bothered him,” and that it proves “the critics are right” about his move to come play for the Warriors — a move Rosenberg himself said Durant “had a right to” make and, therefore, conflates any attempt to rebuke Durant for making the move.
But this enormous leap through an act of armchair psychoanalysis seems to say that it is somehow wrong to be bothered by criticism. In this specific instance, it is criticism levied at Durant for doing something that he, again, “had a right to do.”
These rebukes of Durant are characterized less by interest in what he did but rather what it says about him that he felt compelled to do it. It reflects negatively on him, they argue, that he feels angry enough to respond to these critics online. What these people say to Durant, in essence, is that it is not okay for him to be upset, to feel slighted, basically to feel anything at all.
He exists only as a basketball player rather than as a human — with feelings and emotions that are not always rational or logical — who happens to play the game of basketball.
One only needs to look at the Twitter feed of noted Warriors-hater/LeBron stan/Professional at Getting Things Wrong, Nick Wright, to see this on full display. Here is a prime example of that mindset:
The defending Finals MVP is so in his feelings he's going thru 2-step verification to anonymously argue with 15yr olds online. How?????— nick wright (@getnickwright) September 19, 2017
For someone who purports to be a liberal who is willing to engage with major social issues of our time , Wright turns to a kind of toxic, retrograde masculinity to demean Durant in tweets like these.
When Wright describes Durant as being “so in his feelings,” he is actually talking about the Finals MVP having normal human feelings regarding unfair criticism directed towards him. In short, Wright believes that Durant feeling upset is something that can be used to knock him down a peg and weaken his standing amongst basketball fans.
The discussion about the way Durant handled these things is, in some ways, moot. Was it the best? Probably not. And even Durant admitted as much, saying at TechCrunch: “I happened to take it a little too far. ... That was childish, that was idiotic, all those type of words.”
Part of being human means occasionally making relatively unwise or emotion-driven decisions that are perhaps not the best. We should not begrudge Durant for doing
what is common for any human to do.
Just because Durant is an elite athlete and one of the faces of the NBA does not change the fact that he’s human. Durant addressed this in a comment to another person on YouTube, saying:
I play basketball, I got acne, I grew up with nothing, [I’m] still figuring myself out in my late [20s], I slide in DMs, I make fun of my friends, I drink beers and play Xbox. I’m closer to you than u think
We are conditioned to think of players like Durant as “above it all.” They are superhuman and, thus, shouldn’t behave as we, mere mortals, do. Although they are tremendously gifted and talented, the great players like Durant are also real people who do things like the rest of us. Sometimes those actions can seem petty. But sometimes people — whether they want to be or not — are petty.
Part of what makes Durant such an interesting figure in the league is that he is so authentically human. It’s also what makes this Warriors’ team so interesting — that they do not deny their humanity or play like basketball automatons.
But if we like when our NBA players are human at their best, being overjoyed or emotional or taking political stands, we also must accept them when they are human at their not-so-best, too.
Beyond that idea, what also stands out is how Durant’s critics would deny him the right to his own feelings, whatever they may be. This can be seen in the reaction to the latest edition of Durant’s signature Nikes. These shoes feature on the bottom sole of each shoe the terms used to put down KD this past season — with his many accomplishments written over them.
Of course, I will turn to Mr. Wright to represent this line of thought:
99% of NBA stars insecure enough to defend themselves with fake accounts? No way.— nick wright (@getnickwright) September 18, 2017
The guy who just came out with these sneakers? Maaaaybe pic.twitter.com/S3LEVvkpii
Somehow, Durant’s desire to push back against his critics, either through his sneaker design or through social media commentary, is indicative of insecurity in the eyes of Wright and his like-minded peers.
In addition, it is also a strike against Durant to feel insecure about something. For many of us, no matter what level or status we achieve, we feel as though we don’t belong and that our position is precarious. There is a reason the idea of “impostor syndrome” exists and is felt by many people.
Apparently, Mr. Wright has never felt this way and, thus, can’t sympathize with someone else who might be experiencing this. But as one who has felt like an impostor many times in his life, I can certainly understand Durant’s reactions. Because of that, I’m not going to begrudge him wanting to push back and fight those feelings.
While those like Nick Wright and Michael Rosenberg will use this whole Durant-Twitter episode as a way to put down the Warriors star, I see something else here. We, as a culture, want to tell men that having feelings and being hurt is not okay. This is what the Durant critics are saying, in essence — that his desire to challenge naysayers, driven by feelings and emotions, diminishes him and makes him a player less worthy of our adulation. Those naysayers would like to claim that this somehow makes Durant less of a man when, in fact, the opposite is true.
What this whole narrative with Kevin Durant has shown me is that he is someone who feels, who is in touch with those feelings and engages with them as well all do. Sometimes that comes out in better ways than others, but those feelings are still real. It’s much healthier to acknowledge that they are real — and deal with them, as Durant does — than repress them and deny they exist (as Nick Wright would seemingly suggest).
When I see this Kevin Durant story, I see someone who is human, who feels things, who sometimes doesn’t do the perfect thing but is always trying to do the best he can. I see someone like myself. And that makes me like and respect KD a whole lot more.