Here is the path that Kevin Durant now takes to the Golden State Warriors: the path of least resistance.
And please don't tell me how much the guy wants to win. Everybody wants to win. Of course this is not so different from what LeBron James did when he first began to treat the National Basketball Association like a gaudy, grown-up version of AAU ball. But this is more and, in a lot of ways, this is worse. Durant doesn't just take the path of least resistance on his way out of Oklahoma City. He goes and plays with the team he had 3-1 and couldn't finish, partly because he couldn't do for his team what LeBron just did for his new (or is it old?) team in Cleveland.
This doesn't mean Durant isn't a wonderful young man. He is a wonderful young man. Who could ever forget the eloquent, moving speech he gave about his mother when he won his MVP award, about her love and her sacrifice and his own journey? He exercises his rights here, and takes control of his career as he sees fit. Free agent means free to choose. He does that now. But there has never been anything quite like this with a player of his stature, and a team like the Warriors. This is the gaudiest example you will ever see in sports of a guy deciding that if he can't lick 'em, join 'em.
A friend of mine, one of the smartest sports fans I know, sent me this email at warp speed on Monday morning once Durant announced on The Players' Tribune -- players control everything else in sports these days, why not their message? -- that he had decided to take his talents to the Bay Area:
"Imagine if LeBron's Cavs blew a 3-1 series lead to Heat in 2010 Eastern Conference Finals before heading to play for Miami a month later."
That is exactly what Durant does, except not after a conference final, but after one of the most watched and most compelling, dramatic NBA Finals in all of NBA history. So this is more than just the natural evolution of what LeBron began when he really did go to Miami. This is Durant showing that he has completely bought into the gotta-have-a-ring mentality that dominates the current culture in sports, completely buying into the notion that if you don't win a championship, you are nothing.
He couldn't win when he had both Russell Westbrook and James Harden in Oklahoma City, before the Thunder decided to put Harden into an ejector seat. He and Westbrook couldn't close out the Warriors when they had them three games to one in the Western Conference Finals. So he says goodbye to Westbrook and says hello to the Splash Brothers and Draymond. I love the idea that this move might make the Warriors the best team ever. Well, yeah, but only if they change the rules about playing with just one basketball. Maybe they'll win 80 games next year and lose to LeBron again.
The Warriors won their title when it looked like LeBron against the world. Even with that one, LeBron -- by the force of his talent and his will -- pushed the thing to six games. So Cleveland and Golden State came back this year and did it again, and when the sides were even, LeBron was the one bringing his team all the way back from 3-1 down. If you're the Warriors, or a Warriors fan, do you have a right to wonder how things would have been different if Draymond Green hadn't been suspended from Game 5, when the Warriors had the chance -- at home -- to close out the Cavs? Even people in outer space have a perfect right to wonder about that. But the wisdom on matters such as these in sports always comes from a character named Dreamer Tatum, in Dan Jenkins' iconic novel, "Semi-Tough":
"What could have happened did."
There will be the notion in the media, written and yakked, that if you don't make what Durant just did into some kind of sports sacrament that you are living in the past, or expressing some kind of outrage that he took the easy way out. There's no outrage here. Durant is allowed to wear any uniform he wants to next year. And if he can't win in Golden State, and he gets blamed for that, he is absolutely allowed to exercise his player option and go see if he can find an even easier path to a ring, and to the Larry O'Brien Trophy. But guess what? He does take the easy way out. One hundred percent.
There was a time when George Steinbrenner decided it was some kind of Bronx birthright that the Yankees were going to win the World Series practically every year. One time when they didn't, after they lost to the Dodgers in the '81 World Series, he even issued an apology to the city of New York, as if his team hadn't let just him down, but everybody else in the big, bad city, whether they rooted for the Yankees or not. The Warriors issue a different kind of apology to their fans by signing Durant. They win 73 regular season games and finally lose the NBA Finals in seven games, and the only possible way to make things right -- and to get the world properly spinning on its axis again -- is by signing the best free agent on the market and one of the best basketball players on the planet in Durant. You know something? We may never know how good a coach Steve Kerr really is.
Again: This is LeBron, plus. This is LeBron going to Miami so he could play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, then LeBron leaving Miami to go back to Cleveland, as a way of playing with younger buddies now. I've mentioned this before, but one of the things LeBron did was trade in Wade for Irving like he was looking for a younger trophy guard, as a way of getting his arms around the O'Brien Trophy. It ended up working for him. Maybe it will for Durant, even though he never has carried a team the way LeBron can and never will.
We wait to see now if Durant gets himself a title by ditching Westbrook before Westbrook probably ditches the Thunder next season and makes his own big score. We see if switching sides and going to play with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson works for him. But he does this, what, a month after he and the Thunder couldn't close them out? It's a good thing David Ortiz finally beat the Yankees in 2004, or he might have had to take his talents to New York City to get himself a ring.
We saw the business of modern NBA basketball, and modern NBA business, where the real general managers are the players now, laid bare on July 4, 2016, when the fireworks display was Golden State's, and Kevin Durant's. Durant gets to go play on his very own fantasy league team.
He spoke on Monday of his "personal growth" as a player. Right. With a team that just went 73-9. If he wins next season, it will practically be a "Rocky" movie.