Kevin Durant Says There “Ain’t No Such Thing” as Loyalty in the NBA

Kevin Durant earned himself a title by joining the Golden State Warriors last season. Several, in fact.

Snake.

Spineless.

Gutless coward.

Cupcake.

Those were acquired via social media and certain TV debate shows—followed, of course, by a couple more: NBA champion. Finals MVP.

It took acquiring every one of them for Durant to discover that what he went through to earn those titles—yes, every one of them—is far more valuable than the titles themselves.

“Once we won, I’m expecting something to take the place of what I thought was empty,” Durant tells Bleacher Report. “Now I know. It’s cool to do, but the journey is better than the destination. So much happened that got me to this point that means way more to me than a championship. That was my revelation when we won. I had to tell myself it was cool to feel that way. Everything I did led me to where I am.”

Where he is, Durant says, is at peace. That didn’t seem to be the case over the summer when a variety of stories surfaced suggesting that even after his successful title run, how and why he left OKC still haunted him.

First, there was his response on Twitter, in the third person, when a follower said he only left to win a ring: Durant wrote back that “KD” didn’t like the organization, didn’t think he could win a ring in OKC and didn’t like playing for coach Billy Donovan. He didn’t deny any of the statements when asked about them at a subsequent public appearance, but simply called them “childish” and “idiotic.” Then there was the San Francisco Magazine story by Jon Steinberg where he revealed that the tidal wave of hatred that hit him after joining the Warriors made him question his decision.

“I’m still learning. That’s the best part about it,” he says. “As soon as you feel like, ‘All right, I got life dialed,’ then Twitter happened. Ninety-seven percent of the time I scroll past (posts like that). It’s just the one time I (respond), it gets blasted, so it makes it look like I do this on a regular basis. That’s a place where I need to just keep growing and truckin’, because life is much smoother and greater for me when I don’t pay attention to the bulls–t.” He shakes his head, a rueful smile on his lips as he absently tugs on a strand of chin whiskers. “It’s just part of life, man.”

Now, a month into his second season with the Warriors, Durant is raising his sights from insulting tweets to years down the road. He hasn’t reconciled with his former teammate, Russell Westbrook, nor his former GM, Sam Presti, and, yes, it also initially bothered him that OKC gave his No. 35 to PJ Dozier, who signed a contract that allows him to play for both the Thunder and their G League team, the Blue. But he says he has let go of his hard feelings, and he is convinced everyone on the other side of the OKC equation will do the same. Eventually.

“Those people really mean a lot to me to this day,” he says. “No matter if they talk to me or they’re mad at me. Whether it’s Sam Presti or Troy Weaver or Russell Westbrook or Nick Collison. Whether it’s Wilson Taylor or Clay Bennett and his family, I love them from the bottom of my heart. We’re not talking, but eventually we will.

“I didn’t have that perspective at first. I didn’t have it when I went back to OKC. I was like, ‘F–k all of them.’ I didn’t have it when they gave my number away. I was, ‘F–k all of them.’ My best friend works for the team, I told him, ‘F–k all y’all. That’s f–ked up.’ Then I had to get out of my head, tell myself, ‘It’s not that serious, it is what it is.’ I understand it’s not my number anymore, they can do whatever they want with it, but you hand that number to a two-way player, you’ve got to be, like, ‘Nah, we’ve got too many good memories with this number, man.’ But at some point, that thing’s going to be in the rafters anyway; it’s all good. I did something they didn’t like. They did something I didn’t like. S–t happens. If I was on my death bed, I guarantee you Sam Presti and Russell Westbrook would come check on me. So I’m going to look at it that way rather than the other way.”

Durant understands that talking in depth about his former home and franchise opens him up to more heckling. He is no more willing to be coerced into silence on that front than he was willing to be discouraged from joining the Warriors.

“I’m a person,” he says. “I’ve got real feelings and I’m not afraid to be vulnerable in front of people who watch us play or that follow the league. It’s f–ked up that you’re saying that stuff about me, because just a couple months before, I was the greatest thing since sliced bread because I was playing for your team. Your team is on TV every day, playing late into the playoffs and you get to brag about how good your city is to some other people around the country. It was all good when I was doing something for you. It was all good when I was representing you. Now I decided to take my career in my hands and I’m a ‘bitch’? That’s confusing … because some people that I’d seen that cheered for me, people that I actually talked to, the faces they were giving me, the tone they had when they looked at me, it was weird.

“If I [respond], it’s: ‘No, you’re sensitive. Shut up. You’re supposed to take it. Everybody did it. Michael went through it.’ I’m like, hold up. Michael Jordan did not go through this. You know what Michael Jordan went through? Reading the paper and it says, ‘Oh, Michael Jordan was 7-for-33 the night before, how the f–k is he going to bounce back?’ That’s criticism. Criticism is not, ‘_____, you moved to _____, you’re a bitch, a coward.’ That’s not criticism. Criticism is calling me Mr. Unreliable and bouncing back the next night.”

Durant is referring to Game 5 of the Thunder’s 2014 first-round playoff series, which the Memphis Grizzlies won in overtime to take a 3-2 series lead. In the final 28 seconds, Durant missed a free throw that would’ve tied the game and a three-pointer that could’ve won it. Two days later, on the morning of Game 6 in Memphis, the front page of the Oklahomannewspaper’s sports section consisted of a photo of Durant surrounded by three Grizzlies with the headline, “Mr. Unreliable.”

Durant responded that night with 36 points and 10 rebounds. The Thunder won in a rout and then rode that momentum to a Game 7 victory as well.

“That was a huge moment in my career,” he says. “That’s something I dreamed about overcoming as a kid. I didn’t dream about motherf–kers calling me a bitch on social media because I switched teams. Because that’s not criticism. That’s actually you being a bitch, worrying about me and my personal life.”

The idea that Durant joined the Warriors because he couldn’t beat them—and that it was a simple choice—is what still bothers him.

While he says he never seriously considered leaving before he became a free agent, there was a cumulative effect years in the making. Playing alongside Curry and Andre Iguodala on the gold medal-winning Team USA squad in the 2010 FIBA World Championship was among them.

“Seeds were planted,” he says.

His first NBA teammates believe motivating factors were sown even earlier. Not only well before the Warriors vanquished the Thunder in the 2016 conference finals, and not only before Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were Warriors. But before Oklahoma City even had its own team.

Earl Watson, the former Phoenix Suns head coach, played with Durant his first two years in the league, bridging the franchise’s last year as the Seattle SuperSonics and first in OKC as the Thunder. He saw firsthand how smitten Durant instantly became with living in a West Coast city perched on the Pacific Ocean.

“He played video games with his neighbor’s kids,” Watson says. “He was part of the community. I’ve always wondered why no one ever wrote a piece on why he went to the Bay from that perspective. Because to me, it’s the closest thing to Seattle he could find in the NBA.”

Former point guard Luke Ridnour played with Durant in Seattle. A three-team deal struck in August of 2008 sent him to Milwaukee and saved him a move to Oklahoma City. He, too, witnessed the instant love affair between Durant and the Seattle fans. He believes the similarity to the Bay might’ve played a part in his move—along with learning how fickle loyalty is in the NBA, seeing a franchise turn its back on an entire city. His franchise.

“He got to see it right away,” Ridnour says. “The city embraced him. He was good, but he wasn’t that good, so it wasn’t just about being a great player. The worst part is [the owners] were telling everyone they were going to stay in Seattle. But in the locker room, we all knew we were gone. I don’t think anybody wanted to go to OKC, to be honest. It’s a good city and they have great fans, but c’mon—it’s not Seattle.”

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Source: Bleacher Report