Kevin Durant’s decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder to play ball for the Golden State Warriors generated a maximum amount of social media chatter over the holiday. It was way too much. Why on a major holiday? Couldn’t all this sports hoopla wait one day?
— Slate (@Slate) July 5, 2016
Some here see Durant as some type of traitor and coward for some reason. I don’t even know what those terms mean in this context. Some argued he’s trading “legacy” for a chance at a championship “ring.” Okay, maybe. It’s obvious in some sense, but what does legacy really mean to a young man, especially when it comes to Oklahoma City? Maybe he doesn’t want his legacy to be Oklahoma City. Some wondered why Oklahomans don’t pay as much attention to the funding problems facing education here as they do to a star athlete. (I like this, of course, as a college professor.) Some just brushed it off as this is just what happens in big-league sports, and, well, Okies should just get used to it now that we’re in the big leagues. That’s true enough at the most basic level, but, again, so completely obvious.
Then there’s the storyline popping up that the on-court performance of Russell Westbrook somehow made KD leave. I’m not buying that.
Obviously, I don’t think Durant is a traitor or coward or whatever pejorative, and there’s nothing especially wrong with talking about sports and venting. Maybe it eases the pain of living in this extremely flawed place. The heat index was over 100 yesterday and will be today as well. The earthquakes keep coming because of fracking. I can go on. As long as no one goes off the rails here completely with the Durant decision, and a few people have and will, what’s the issue? It will pass, folks.
But some of us, including myself, couldn’t help but note that Durant’s decision may well have included some political gestures or semi-gestures (perhaps, at least a hint) that the corporate media failed to directly address. Maybe, just maybe, Durant didn’t want to be the face and the most-recognized person from a place that often makes the news for the antics of its right-wing politicians connected at least in the past to the team’s principal owner.
You can read Durant’s statement in its entirety here. Here’s the key paragraph:
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. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.
Note Durant’s reference to his “evolution as a man” and going to a “community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth.”
In short, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma couldn’t offer these things to him as a “man” or, to put it another way in gender-neutral terms, just a basic human being, rather than a superstar basketball player. That’s no wonder. Despite its so-called renaissance, Oklahoma City is still home to the Oklahoma state Capitol, which continues to house a legislature that embarrasses the state by introducing backwards and extremist legislation on sexual orientation, reproductive rights and education funding. Take note local diehard NBA fans: Any state that cuts funding to higher education by nearly a whopping 16 percent can hardly be considered a place for anyone looking for “personal growth.”
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) July 5, 2016
What’s interesting to note is that the principal leader of the Thunder organization and one of its main owners, Clayton Bennett, is married to Louise Gaylord Bennett, the daughter to the late Edward L. Gaylord, who owned and operated the right-wing The Daily Oklahoman for decades. That paper, after Gaylord’s death, was eventually sold by his children to Philip Anschutz, the absentee Colorado billionaire, who has continued to ensure the now named The Oklahoman remains extremely conservative in its editorial outlook and much of its news coverage.
So one could argue that Bennett was part of a large group of people that helped foster the right-wing extremism here that may well have factored into Durant’s decision to move on to a more enlightened place. That place is not just Oakland. It’s the entire Bay Area, which includes San Francisco and San Jose. What a stark difference from Oklahoma City in ambience and diversity of people and political views. Will Bennett sell the Thunder now that he’s lost KD to, perhaps, the right-wing madness, which has no end point in sight here? On some levels, the madness is getting worse.
Of course, few big-time professional athletes making millions are going to put their farewell comments in crass and blunt political terms and certainly not someone like Durant, who has always seemed to me to be humbled by his success. Maybe this was a heartfelt, progressive and great decision for him, and, in his mind, he didn’t even put it in the unweighted Republican/Democratic dichotomy here. He just felt the progressive Bay Area calling him just like he feels that three-point shot to win the game.
In the end, Durant’s decision to decide to NOT be the embodiment of Oklahoma City might be interpreted as much a political statement as anything else. Maybe that’s why he announced his decision on the Fourth of July after all. Freedom.