The backlash against Kevin Durant — for doing what those same people bash other athletes for not doing in prioritizing winning — continues unabated in some corners of the Internet, not to mention the “look at me” world of television punditry and talk radio.
Kyrie Irving had a rational response to all that.
Irving swung by The Bill Simmons Podcast, and they talked about Durant’s critics and how that impacted him during the NBA season.
“I love playing against him, but I also love watching him. He has a presence about him that is really unassuming, but he dominates games. Thirty-plus [points] is easy for him, but then you get 10 assists [from him] some games, eight assists, or 14 rebounds he had in the Finals, or Game 4 where he had the triple-double, and he’s just working on his craft. I think that in itself was like, “OK, I got the championship, now I just want to work on my craft.” And now, of course … everyone just starts attacking, like, “Oh, you’re not enough, you’re not this, you’re not that.” And it’s just, bro, give it a break. Like, seriously, give it a break. Let it go, man. Yes, he’s on an incredible team, but he’s also the best player on that team.”
Irving was good with KD switching teams to the Warriors.
“Yeah, I was happy for him. I was happy for him. At the end of the day, if you can control your experience, he wanted that. So I’m not the one to be opposing in any way of someone making a decision for their life. Which is kind of why I was an advocate of when I came out with my trade, like, “No, I’m just trying to be in my own truth, I’m trying to figure out my life.” No disrespect to anyone else, but this was the decision I had to make for me. And some people understand it, some people don’t, but at the end of the day it just really doesn’t matter.”
First, it is up for debate if Durant is the best player on Golden State. I would say that Durant is the best player on that team, and is the second best player on the planet (and second could be too low). Is he more important to the Warriors and their style of play/culture than Stephen Curry? No. Golden State is Curry’s team. But when you consider the ability to get his own shot and defense, I’ll take Durant as the better player. Best and most important do not have to be one in the same.
Second, I think Irving’s sentiments on Durant match those of most players — he earned the right to be a free agent, he earned the right to control his destiny on where he wanted to play, and that he chose rings over “having his own team” is all good then. It was his call to make. He agreed to sacrifice buckets and touches to get wins.
As fans of the sport, that’s something we should celebrate and venerate in athletes, not tear down. If prioritizing rings is what we say we want from athletes, if rings are one of the key benchmarks in a players’ legacy, then we can’t shred them for chosing the path that gets them rings (and in KD’s case last summer, taking a little less money to help keep a title team together). Players, for the most part, have no issue with what KD did, even if it made the Warriors that much harder to beat.