I am baffled by the blowback against Kevin Durant—every bit as baffled by the even larger backlash against LeBron James six years ago—for doing nothing more than taking the job in which he believes he’ll be most successful and fulfilled. Everyone criticizing Durant for joining a dominant team would leap at the opportunity to do so in their own work life. But athletes? I guess they owe you something.
The way I see it, there is one legitimate reason to be upset about Durant joining the Golden State Warriors and forming a Big Four, alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, unlike anything the NBA has ever seen before. That one reason is jealousy. I wish Durant were on my team, or I wish my team were that good. That’s a fine reason! I do wish my basketball team were prohibitive title favorites instead of a smoldering trash can held together by dollar-store duct tape. But even that manifestation of disapproval for this move holds nothing against Durant, and is instead an indictment of the people running my team. Why can’t my team be so good that the best players in the world want to play there and make it even better?
(This doesn’t mean you can’t hate the Warriors, lord no. What is life for if not hating? I hope LeBron dunks on all of them in a Finals sweep. No! I hope the T-Wolves knock them out in the first round and become their own dynasty, forever blocking Golden State from the Finals. I hope bad, bad things happen to the Warriors, and that their techno-libertarian scum fanbase never feels happiness ever again. The Warriors unexpectedly emerged as true villains over the course of the playoffs, and it was wonderful—and they’re even more villainous now.)
But Durant? Dude’s just an employee making an employment decision. Here’s a fun thought experiment: When you read analysis of the move today, mentally replace “play” with “work” and “team” with “workplace.” Durant, though on a much more public pedestal, is making the same employment decisions we make—and are encouraged to make—all the time.
Odds are good you’ve taken a new job before, or even transferred schools. Why? Maybe you liked the culture of a new place. In the office world, than involves getting along with your co-workers, having fun, feeling like you’re a part of something bigger. On the court, it’s the same. Draymond Green, who admitted he’s been recruiting Durant for at least a year, said,
“I was really just telling him about the fun we have together—the fun that this team has and how he would be welcome here with open arms. And it’s not about ‘I’ with us on this team. It’s all about ‘we’ and winning championships.”
Maybe you took your new job because you’ve got friends who already work there, and who say it’s a good place, and you’d like to work alongside people you know and like and have common interests with—ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss noted that Durant has been friends with Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala since the 2010 World Championships in Turkey, when the three attended chapel together.
Maybe you took your new job because you want to do good work, your best work, and you want to achieve personal and individual success. In any industry, everyone knows which companies are on top, even if that competition doesn’t come with an annual trophy. In the NBA, the Warriors are the cream of the crop, and are only even better with Durant on board. Can you blame Durant for thinking the Thunder might have hit their ceiling, especially with Golden State standing in the way, and believing that his only chance in his prime at the ultimate industry success—an NBA championship—was to switch jobs?
What about loyalty? Loyalty in the workplace isn’t real. Ask Serge Ibaka if he had a choice about leaving OKC. Your company is not your friend.
When you read Durant’s Players’ Tribune essay about going to Golden State, he sounds for all the world like any worker who’s hit a wall in his current job and has taken another for the challenge of trying something new:
The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction. But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth.
You and I aren’t tied to our jobs, thank goodness, because of centuries of evolution of labor theory, and many hard-won battles along the way. Kevin Durant isn’t tied to the team that drafted him because Oscar Robertson tore down the option clause 40 years ago, denying NBA owners the antitrust exemptions you know they’d still use today if they could. Durant has exercised his right to take a new job, for whatever reasons he deems applicable. That his stated reasons feel so intimately relatable ought to stop anyone from giving him shit.