“The NBA is a business, after all.” This is the catch-all phrase that we use as fans to rationalize the heartless decisions made by the decision makers. But players who choose to leave for a better opportunity are met with derision, and sometimes outright hate.
Like many of you, I really first read about Durant’s free agency decision to join the Golden State Warriors in his own words from his piece in the Player’s Tribune. It was a nice break from the usual journalism coverage because I opened the website and was immediately reading Durant’s thoughts. It was neat and made the tumultuous offseason move feel a little bit more personal. Even as the league and fans alike freaked out all over the place, it was cool knowing where Durant stood and what his rationale was.
This year, it’s been an equally crazy offseason in the NBA. From Superstars like Paul George and Gordon Hayward changing conferences, to Chris Paul leaving Lob City in order to play alongside James Harden in Houston - we have seen more than our fair share of tumult over the summer. Arguably, no move was crazier than the trade that swapped the starting point guards of the top two teams in the East for each other.
And because it was a trade rather than a Free Agency move, fans generally accepted it.
Isaiah Thomas was traded away from the Celtics mere months after going down in history as their leading scorer in a regular season - surpassing the legendary Larry Bird and Paul Pierce in the process. It was a shocking move, to put it mildly.
And while it changed the landscape in the Eastern conference, the change in the landscape of public perception of Durant may be more lasting.
All season, Durant was mocked. They called him a cupcake. Cowardly. Mocked him for taking the “easy” way out.
The best part? Durant and the Warriors took the jab and turned it into a counter punch. The team posted images of themselves in the mocking cupcake shirts (after beating the Thunder at home, by the way), and Durant even went as far as wearing a custom hat with a cupcake topped with a championship ring after winning it all.
And it still goes on. Have you seen the video below? In it, Durant makes delicious red velvet cupcakes with Tasty - but listen to the voiceover:
Durant handles himself very well here. Rather than spinning the negativity, he says he sees it as a positive. Pointing towards the passion of the fans, he talks about the role of his teammates and the eventual championship had in his journey through all the criticism. And at the end, he switches it back to himself. “Everything was in question, my character, why I decided to make this decision...it came from me and I’m still the same person.”
Isaiah Thomas’ article in the Player’s Tribune mentions Durant by name
The Player’s Tribune is a really brilliant idea - instead of analyzing sports from the outside, it gives the actual professional athletes a chance to get their voice heard by a large audience. Unadulterated by inane interview questions or external voices these athletes really shine through. As we saw with Durant, Isaiah Thomas is more than up for the challenge of writing a compelling piece - filled with perspective and insight that us regular folks just don’t have.
You can (and should) read his entire piece here, but one of his main points is how much the trade hurt. Deeply:
And that’s when, like — man. You ever been on the phone, and someone says something … and then all of a sudden, all you can think about after is, I don’t want to be on the phone anymore? Not even in a rude way. Just, like, your willpower to have a conversation shuts down. That’s what it was like for me in that moment.
We don’t talk about this very much - but for a variety of reasons men are just supposed to push through the vicissitudes of life and just shrug through any trouble with a stoic expression. But Thomas makes no excuses for his pain. Instead, he uses it as a launching point to discuss the view that NBA fans have towards Durant and how unjust it is.
I was thinking about that last year with KD and his free agency — about how people gave him such a hard time for doing what he felt was best for him and his future. How they turned him into a villain, just for doing what was his right to do as a free agent in this league. Suddenly, it was, “Oh, he’s selfish,” or, “Oh, he’s a coward.” Suddenly, just for doing business on his end, and doing right by himself, he was portrayed as this bad guy.
But that’s what I think my trade can show people. I want them to see how my getting traded — just like that, without any warning — by the franchise that I scratched and clawed for, and bled for, and put my everything on the line for? That’s why people need to fix their perspective.
Thomas brings up an extremely valid point about the dichotomy of how fans view free agency. For your team, you want them to get all the best players, and if that forces out a fan favorite... well... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
And yet, we conveniently sweep that sentiment under the rug when a star player leaves in free agency. Instead, the fan voices turn vociferously angry - relentlessly trashing the player at games and in various forms of media, burning a jersey or two, generally freaking out.
As Thomas says though, maybe it’s time for us to fix our perspective - or go out and burn some Danny Ainge jerseys.
Because it’s crazy that Durant gets so much ill-will from his free agency decision, while Boston can flip Thomas’ life around without much backlash. Because maybe the team did in fact get better by making this move, but they sold a part of the fanbase’s collective soul in order to get there. And they shafted a player who they KNEW wanted to stay.
I guess the bottom line for me is that if I can, I want to truly heed Thomas’ advice and fix my perspective. This team has looming salary cap issues that make it extremely probable that our core team will change significantly over the next few years. And I hope we are all in a place as fans and people that we can handle any changes gracefully.
As Thomas says loyalty isn’t something to count on, but maybe we can find the grace to keep the nastiness at bay.
But I just hope that the next time a player leaves in free agency, and anybody wants to jump on him or write a critical story or a nasty tweet about him, maybe now they’ll think twice. Maybe they’ll look around the league, look at a case like mine, and remember that loyalty — it’s just a word. And it’s a powerful word if you want it to be. But man … when it comes to business, it ain’t nothing to count on.