Tomorrow night, the world will be subjected to The Offseason: Kevin Durant, an HBO show marketed as a documentary that depicts what The Servant has been up to since the end of the Western Conference Finals. You might think it would be interesting, seeing that over the summer Durant (briefly) played with the Team USA squad, negotiated a lucrative new shoe contract, and suffered the first big injury of his career. Then, though, you'd remember, Oh yeah, Kevin Durant fucking sucks, and anything he presents to the public couldn't be anything more than a well-crafted yet hollow reinforcement of his annoying brand.
First of all, let's be clear: This isn't a documentary, and not just because it's an advertisement. (Durant and his manager have producer credits, to give you an idea what kind of production this is.) The whole point of the documentary is to, after the passage of time, take a closer look at certain events and add either insight or contextualization to them that wasn't self-evident in the moment. A documentary without time isn't a documentary at all; it's just another monument to the protagonist's inflated sense of self, no different from an incessantly updated Instagram page or solopsistic Tumblr diary. So while these glorified one-off reality shows might be perfect for our narcissistic age, they offer nothing of real value to anyone interested in who Kevin Durant is.
When you're an incredibly rich and incredibly famous basketball star, though, monuments to one's self-importance aren't called narcissistic flotsam; they're called branding opportunities. When a brand films itself staring at its own face in the mirror for an hour, pretending that this is a private look into the brand while it's off-duty even though the brand and its associates produced said film, the brand is able to sell the resulting footage to the adoring public, so that the next time the public sees this brand existing as a brand, they will think they have a more intimate relationship with the brand, burnishing the brand as brand. It's the same fake intimacy of all celebrity reality shows, and it's the same thing that makes Kevin Durant such a detestable phony.
For some fluke of timing, Kevin Durant is the one superstar athlete allowed to exist as nothing more than a walking marketing robot without getting any shit for selling what was probably once a human soul for profit. Durant is no different than Alex Rodriguez or Cristiano Ronaldo, guys who everyone makes fun of for how meticulously and inhumanly they craft and maintain their brands. When A-Rod "opens his heart" to the public, we rightfully laugh it off and imagine how many times he and his handlers practiced each successive move, down to each facial expression and corresponding hand gesture. When Cristiano celebrates a record-breaking goal, we all wonder whether he'd spent more time dreaming about the finish that would give him the record or how much his fans would love his little dance acknowledging the moment.
Durant has thus far gotten a pass despite a similar dedication to pandering to how he wants people to perceive him. The Rosetta Stone here, to be consulted every time Durant does anything other than shoot a basketball, was that BS Report where he offered up his preferred nickname of "The Servant."
Durant, recall, was involuntarily cast as the anti-LeBron when the public decided to turn against the best player in the NBA. Their contrasting contract situations—LeBron used every ounce of leverage he could squeeze out of the rigged system to take less money and play with his friends, while Durant signed away his power for as much money as possible—made them easy foils.
Instead of rejecting this lazy comparison, Durant ran with it. At every turn, he's tried to encourage the perception that he's a humble team player who cares about nothing but wins and all the other empty bromides this site practically exists in opposition to. The purest evidence that Durant had fully internalized the anti-LeBron narrative was that Servant nickname, a statement that only made sense as the end result of a brand's having done the calculations to show that there was more money in being seen as a Servant than a murderous, badass Slim Reaper.
No one has even seen this documentary, but based on a couple of reviews, you already know exactly how it's going to go. It apparently starts with his MVP speech, a legitimately touching moment of emotional vulnerability cheapened by its inclusion here. (The show's supposed to be about the offseason! He was still playing when that happened!) That scene's only there to try to make you forget that the Durant you're about to watch is a branding automaton and—unlike A-Rod at least—still has the capacity to express nuanced emotions.
From there, we get to the actual offseason. Watch Kevin Durant: Good Friend chum it up with his old pals around town. Watch Kevin Durant: Desirable Corporate Shill listen to competing pitches about who should pay him boatloads of money for the right to slap his initials on the tongues of sneakers before staying loyal to (and handsomely rewarded by) Nike. Watch Kevin Durant: Conflicted Patriot wrestle with the desire to take a break from the summer's exhausting international basketball schedule with his love for country and the (bullshit) brotherhood that is Coach K's Team USA, before a fallen comrade's injury compels him to protect himself. Watch Kevin Durant: Indefatigable Competitor's disconsolate response to the injury that would keep him out of the early parts of this season before vowing to come back better than ever to realize the only goal that matters to him: bringing the people of Oklahoma City an NBA championship.
In the middle of any given scene, you could pause the show, explicate exactly how the current situation and Durant's response to it advances his good guy image, and predict how he will subsequently react in furtherance of that. There's nothing new here; it's the Kevin Durant Show, brought to you by Kevin Durant, starring Kevin Durant as Kevin Durant, a program intended to make you buy more of what Kevin Durant and his corporate sponsors would like you to buy.
At least when the pinnacle of brand awareness, Michael Jordan, was doing all of this, you had the suspicion—or the evidence, if you knew where to look—that he was concealing his true self in order to better present a blank canvas for marketers to project their values upon. A Summer of '92: The Jordan Story documentary wouldn't have worked because you couldn't follow Jordan around for too long before he'd revert to the maniacally competitive asshole he's always been.
Durant's transformation seems different. He's apparently trying to substitute whatever real person existed before he ever worried about how an honest response to a post-game question would affect Phil Knight's bank account with a synthetic hu-brand, and it's time to stop pretending Durant is anything else. For too long guys like A-Rod and Ronaldo have taken all the ire when the likes of Durant and Derek Jeter have done the exact same thing, just with more successful marketing strategies. At least when we saw pictures of A-Rod making love to his own image, we had the decency to ask him to get a room rather than whip out our dicks and start stroking ourselves.
Plus, if the Based God doesn't fuck with him, we don't fuck with him.
Top image by Sam Woolley, photo via Getty