It goes against nearly all of my instincts as a sports fan and writer to buy into narrative concepts such as heroes and villains. An athlete who ditches his team for a better situation is not suddenly a bad guy just because some Twitter users and columnists decide he is, and public opinion doesn’t really affect what happens on the field or court, anyway.
Having said all that, there is a dark, Baylessian part of my brain that lit up with thoughts like, “Holy shit, I don’t think Kevin Durant can handle this!” when I saw this video:
That clip comes from ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss, and it shows Durant staying late after practice to shoot jumpers while giving himself a canned motivational speech. Strauss provides more details:
When asked after his session about shouting criticisms, Durant explained, “That’s what I say to myself when I’m working. I hear it all the time. You hear the noise. You hear what they say about you. Everybody hears it. So it’s a little extra motivation when you hear it.”
Of the scene, Durant said, “Nobody in this arena right now, and that’s when you get better. Nobody sees you when you’re doing this stuff right here, but luckily y’all was in here watching.”
Set aside the “Oh, I didn’t see you there while I was doing all these pushups” corniness of this scene, and consider that after one loss Durant is already reaching into the Kobe Bryant playbook of performative work ethic and calling out his imagined haters. This does not seem to bode well for Durant’s mental fortitude, given that he still has an entire season of everyone wanting his team to lose badly laid out in front of him and that the haters really are pretty much imaginary. (Durant may come in for some shit for having headed out west, but he’s hardly a truly hated heel like post-Decision LeBron James.) Either way, The Servant had these parting words for the reporters who witnessed his totally impromptu and not at all calculated shooting session:
Durant’s closing statement, said with laughter as he left: “It’s one game of 82 and you f—-ing guys make me feel like the world’s going to end.”
Look, man, it wasn’t that long ago that LeBron James admitted that trying to be the villain in Miami fucked with his head and messed up his game. And LeBron James is one of the most unstoppable forces in basketball history! Kevin Durant is a great player, but he’s also the guy whose relationship to his own personal brand has been as tortured and perplexing as possible, and now he’s wigging out after just one loss. If the Warriors lose tonight, expect Durant to show up at the next practice sporting a face tattoo that represents how he never stops grinding even when the haters don’t want him to be great, or something.