When Kevin Durant talks about LeBron James — or vice versa — it’s news.
After all, Durant is chasing LeBron’s legacy, who himself is chasing Michael Jordan’s legacy. I travel around the country to cover the Jazz, and when Lyft drivers, airplane passengers, and restaurant waiters learn what it is that I do, the conversation turns to those three men more frequently than any other topic. It’s the stuff of philosophers throughout time, it’s about what it means to be great.
So when Bleacher Report came out with a story on the subject of whether or not James can find a superstar to join him in Los Angeles, quotes from one Warriors star stood out.
“So much hype comes from being around LeBron from other people,” Durant said. "He has so many fanboys in the media. Even the beat writers just fawn over him. I’m like, we’re playing basketball here, and it’s not even about basketball at certain points.
“So I get why anyone wouldn’t want to be in that environment because it’s toxic. Especially when the attention is bulls--- attention, fluff. It’s not LeBron’s fault at all; it’s just the fact you have so many groupies in the media that love to hang on every word. Just get out of the way and let us play basketball.”
Let’s start with what’s true about Durant’s comments: James does have fans in the media. From writers to radio to TV, the media watching the games know that they’re “witnessing” a top-five player of all-time, and that appreciation appears in the coverage of James and the questions he’s asked.
Everything else about what Durant said is weird. Like, of course some of the coverage of LeBron isn’t about basketball. He’s opened a school, has acted in multiple movies, and is the executive producer of TV shows on multiple networks. Those are non-basketball accomplishments, and the media is right to celebrate them.
Also, that somehow this positive coverage is toxic? How does that work? It certainly hasn’t impacted James' level of success, what with his eight straight NBA finals appearances. And yes, I’m sure that’s what’s keeping superstars away from the sunny skies of L.A., the toxic environment created by too many nice articles.
And as for the media getting out of the way and letting them play basketball, two points: one, remember how James owns his own media production company? He chose to go in that business. Two, the media gets five minutes with these guys after a game, and five minutes after a practice or shootaround. In no way are these five minutes preventing the players from doing their jobs.
But the final nail in the coffin to Durant’s point of view is that it hasn’t always been this way. Remember how LeBron was treated in the summer of 2010 in the immediate aftermath of “The Decision"? When James told the media that he was taking his talents to South Beach, James was regarded as a hyper-entitled traitor to his upbringing, a man out for fame and fortune at any cost. It took James returning to Cleveland and making things right there with a championship for him to earn the respect he enjoys today.
Just over two years ago now, Durant made his own unfortunate decision — lowercase — to join the Warriors, who had won 73 games the season before. In doing so, Durant left his own team, the Thunder, which had battled Golden State to a seven-game series in the Western Conference Finals. His move was derided, not just by the media who covered the league, but even by Durant’s fellow players who thought it the cowardly thing to do.
LeBron earned the respect of the media and the league after he made a move that took him away from the super-team of his own creation. If — and when, given Durant’s seemingly likely departure this offseason — Durant makes his own move, his own star will rise to newer heights.
THREE MORE THOUGHTS
• It was sad to see Gregg Popovich take resigned timeout after resigned timeout in his team’s 139-105 loss in Utah on Tuesday. The most discouraging thing about the Spurs is their defense: Popovich has kept them in the top five defensively in all but three seasons of his 21 as the head coach of the Spurs, and even in those three outliers, they never ranked below 11th. This season, they rank 29th. The injuries suffered in preseason may have been too much.
• The Golden State Warriors rank 19th in the league in 3-point rate. Could you have imagined that three seasons ago? The truth is that the Warriors haven’t really dropped their rate much, but instead, the league has surpassed them. As you can imagine, though, the Warriors still rank first offensively overall. I don’t know that enough attention has been placed on the season Steph Curry is having: he’s scoring 30 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the field, 50 percent shooting from 3, and 93 percent shooting from the free-throw line. Just absolutely incredible numbers. If he keeps it up, he should be league MVP.
• It was strange to see Cleveland get a first round pick in exchange for sending George Hill to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, until you understand what the trade was really about: money. In the deal, the Bucks also dumped the contracts of Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson on the Cavs, meaning $18 million less they have to pay next season. That means they’ll have the space to keep Khris Middleton in free agency without going over the luxury tax if he chooses to stick around, or flexibility to put a second star next to Giannis Antetokounmpo if Middleton leaves.