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Kevin Durant’s comment about winning championships isn’t a big deal

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Kevin Durant made a rather mundane comment that put basketball in perspective and some talking head tried to take exception to it. Here, we respond.

Golden State Warriors Victory Parade Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Last Tuesday, ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote an article that included a quote about how Golden State Warriors Star Kevin Durant feels about winning championships.

“I mean, I’m crazy about winning, don’t get me wrong,” Durant told Lowe. “I’m just not obsessed with winning championships. It’s not the only reason I play. I play for my individual growth.”

Honestly, we’re just getting to this now because we all saw the quote, but none of us really cared all that much — it seemed to fit with everything we know about why he came to Golden State to begin with.

Then someone dropped this discussion into the GSOM Slack chat:

There’s a lot going on there — some of it blatantly ridiculous — and we went on for a while discussing it. So a few of us decied to collect those thoughts in the form of a roundtable.

What did you think of KD’s comment about not being obsessed with titles when you first heard about it?

Tom: I had a few thoughts upon hearing that quote. The first was general indifference (players say things, it doesn’t really matter, etc etc.). But the more substantial thoughts I had were that I understood what KD was saying, why he was saying it, and how it reflects positively upon him. There is this way in which we overly valorize those who are “obsessed” with winning in basketball. The pedestal that Michael Jordan is put on (and that we think Kobe Bryant is on) attest to that. But by doing that we reduce these players who are, lest we forget, complex and complete humans into two-dimensional objects or characters in a fictional narrative we create.

Speaking for myself, I was a big MJ fan as a kid but part of that was because I didn’t know or understand that much about the world and about life. As I’ve gotten older and learned more about myself and how things are, that reverence for Jordan (while still acknowledging his place as the greatest player of all-time) has worn off. But that extra level of appreciation is reserved for players like Stephen Curry or David Robinson or Tim Duncan, players who are great champions and players but whom are not “obsessed” and can keep the bigger picture in mind. As a well-documented fan of Durant, I really like that he seems to be trending towards the example of those players.

So, in short, my thoughts were indifference, understanding, and happiness that KD could see things in that way because I think it will make him both a better basketball player (because he will be more at peace) and allow him to have a more peaceful and pleasant life.

Nate P.: Honestly, I saw the comment come across my timeline on Twitter and didn’t give it a second thought. Someone posted a video of Nick Wright & Co. responding in our Slack group and that’s the first time I had any reaction to it. In short, I didn’t really care.

Brady: Like Nate, I didn’t think twice about it when I first saw the quote creep across my timeline. If anything, the honesty is refreshing to me. The reality that so many choose to ignore is that winning a championship requires a lot of things to go in your favor, and you don’t have control over the bulk of those things. We like to pretend that a great player can just will a team to a title, but it’s never that simple. Was Durant more deserving of a title this year than LeBron James? No; they were both incredibly deserving, for playing the sport at the highest level. To me, KD saying he’s not obsessed is just public recognition for the fact that he can only control what he can control. It’s a reminder that he’s not some dramatically better player in the Bay Area than he was in Oklahoma City. And, of course, he’s right.

One more thing: Durant has long insisted that he came to the Bay Area because it was the best situation for him to grow, as a person, and as a player. His detractors have long insisted that he came to the Bay Area because it was the easiest route towards a title. It’s almost like there’s some relation between a place that’s ideal for players to grow, learn, and develop, and a place that wins championships! Either way, Durant’s quote re-affirmed to me that he chose the Warriors because of how his development would improve, not because it was a quick path to the Finals.

What was your reaction to the exchange between Chris Carter, Stephen Jackson and Nick Wright about KD’s comments?

Tom: That Chris Carter and Stephen Jackson make a great deal of sense. Also, that Nick Wright is a braying LeBron sycophant whose disingenuous conduct when it comes to discussing non-LeBron players is galling and so hypocritical that I’m surprised he isn’t also a congressional Republican. This man has no business having this platform. His thinking is so remarkably compromised that there could not be a big enough grain of salt to be taken along with his interpretations. That said, his face at the end of this segment is priceless and makes it worthwhile to up with all the delusional nonsense he so often puts out into the sports discourse.

What Durant is doing, by saying this, is re-asserting himself as one who plays basketball well, not just a basketball player. Stephen Jackson’s comments speak to this, but there is an enormous amount of space between being “obsessed” with winning titles and not caring at all. One can strive and want to win and be the best and yet, when circumstance or actions or fate keep that from happening, can be at peace with all that they accomplish even if it falls short of what everyone wants. The Warriors, from Steve Kerr to Stephen Curry and on down, all emphasize this, that these things are an enormous part of each player’s life but it’s not their entire life.

Nate P.: There’s one thing that Wright said that actually made some sense: it’s totally true that we want to know more about these figures who accomplish superhuman feats in order to humanize them and relate to them (I’m paraphrasing him a bit, perhaps loosely/generously). The problem, similar to what Chris Carter alluded to, is that far too often people exploit the distance that remains between themselves and these celebrities/public figures to tear them down.Yet unlike Carter, I don’t think people seek out this information with the intention of tearing athletes down -- in becoming real world heroes who represent our cities, I very much believe that people begin to feel entitled to this relatability that’s really nothing more than an odd privilege that we often abuse. (Chris Hedges wrote an article after Michael Jackson’s memorial service that has been echoing in my mind since watching this video; he opened by writing, “In celebrity culture we destroy what we worship” and the article provides a really good framework through which to understand this situation. Once we begin to see these athletes as public property to consume, we inherently deny them their humanity and that goes on far too often.)

How does any of this relate to what KD was saying?

Almost any effort to interpret a millionaire MVP/Olympic-caliber athlete’s comments about what they feel about their craft through the lens of the average person’s worldview is ludicrous. The vast majority of us will literally never do anything that approximates working your whole life to win a championship that is viewed, enjoyed, and criticized by millions — that life is just totally foreign to us.

And that’s what bugged me about Nick Wright’s statements: he seems to have this idea that once we hear a few isolated quotes from an athlete -- usually in response to a reporter’s inane questions -- that we can suddenly ascertain their intentions and judge their lives in comparison to ours.

Brady: Stephen Jackson said, “Basketball is what we do, it’s not who we are”, and I wish more people understood this. That, to me, is the takeaway from Durant’s quote.

Then Nick Wright said that Durant is frustrating because this comment goes against a lot of what he’s said in the past, and I just can’t agree with that. There seems to be this notion that we should take a quote here, and a quote there, and piece them together to try and draw grand and strong statements about who a player is and what they feel. That’s just not the case. Durant has never said “I’m obsessed with championships”, so unless you’ve projected your own feelings on him, or inaccurately extrapolated from previous comments of his, “I’m not obsessed with championships” is not a statement that directly contradicts anything he’s said prior.

But ultimately, the meaningful part of the exchange is when Wright asked why Durant went to the Warriors if he’s not obsessed with titles, and Jackson replied, “Because he wanted to.” The Bay Area is one of the best places in the world to live. Silicon Valley is the best place for a young entrepreneur interested in tech. Steve Kerr is one of the best coaches in the world. Joe Lacob has deep pockets. Steph Curry is the best star in the world to play next to. There are a lot of reasons to join the Warriors beyond simply winning. We need to stop pretending that we know everything that goes behind a player’s decision, just so we can criticize them later when they reveal some of their thought process.

What do you think about KD’s comment and the discussion between Carter, Jackson and Wright? Let us know in the comments!