Basketball

An Ode to Freedom

At the time of my writing this, the Warriors of Golden State are leading the Cavaliers of Cleveland three games to none in the Finals of the NBA Playoffs…and the single greatest factor in that decisive lead is a young gentleman hailing from Seat Pleasant, Maryland (say it like “Murrland”), one Kevin Wayne Durant…aka “Get Buckets” aka “Easy Money Sniper” aka “KD”, but I’ve taken to calling him “Seat Pleasant Slim”.

We hoops fans in the DC Metropolitan Area have been hip to Slim for years now, hearing about him frying at Montrose Christian, and making grown men cry “down the Gates”, better known as the Goodman League in Barry Farms, one of the toughest street-ball leagues anywhere.

Here’s a clip from 2008:

KD matriculated at the University of Texas, earning Naismith Player of the Year honors and was drafted by the SuperSonics of Seattle with the second pick of the 2007 NBA Draft. Before his second season, the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, becoming the Oklahoma City Thunder…and things REALLY started to take off.

KD became a media darling and the centerpiece of a young team of stars that seemed destined to take over the league. Known as one of the flat out nicest dudes in the league, the fans in OKC took to their new star in a way only a passionate, hoops-starved town could. NBA machinations being what they are, the pieces of that Thunder team began to change. The front office decided to pay Serge Ibaka instead of future MVP candidate James Harden which left the Thunder as mainly a two-man show….Russell Westbrook and KD. Russ and KD complimented each other in a way few players could…Russ is a fireball of energy and aggressiveness and KD has always come across as cool, calm, collected, smooth…which led many to question who was the “alpha dog” of the Thunder. Nevertheless, KD always took up for the “Brodie” Russ, defending him against critics who claimed he shot too much and was too ball-dominant to allow KD, and ultimately the Thunder, the flourish they “deserved”.

Fast-forward to the 2016 NBA Western Conference Finals, and the Thunder were up three games to one in their match-up against the Warriors, when the Warriors incandescent offense ramped up a few notches, eventually eliminating the Thunder before going on to lose to the Cavaliers in maybe the greatest playoff collapse ever. But then the unthinkable happened, rumors began to swirl again that KD was considering leaving the Thunder. There were rumblings previously, but KD shut down his previous free agency so quickly by signing and unceremoniously tweeting that he was staying, surely, he wouldn’t leave the fans who loved him in OKC and the “Band of Brothers” he so lovingly took the time to comment about in his speech after winning the MVP award for the 2013-2014 season, would he?

KD took meetings with a few teams, and as we all know now, he decided to sign with the Warriors in the offseason, announcing his intentions in a well-stated article in the Player’s Tribune entitled “My Next Chapter”.

And the internet BROKE. I saw KD called ALL kinds of suckers, punks, and three-word terms that I wouldn’t dare use in these innanet streets…his jersey was burned by fans in OKC who saw their savior abandoning them and his decision was questioned by talking heads and former players on every sports outlet imaginable.

“Kobe would never”

“Mike would never”

“Bird would never”

“Timmy would never”

“Russ would never”

Lebron James left the Cavaliers in 2010 for the Miami Heat, where he went to four Finals and won two Championships before returning to Cleveland for the 2015 season, but SURELY KD was a different animal, right? Even at the time of that decision, plenty claimed that KD had the kind of “competitive dog” that would NEVER allow him to make such a soft move, right?

Then he did the EXACT same thing…and you know what? I applaud him (just as I applauded Lebron leaving in 2010…although he didn’t quite do it the way I would’ve liked to have seen). Why? Well, a few reasons:

1. As I tweeted when it happened,

KD is from “around the way”, he’s the fulfillment of promise for SO many dudes we hooped against, with, and saw over the years who had the goods but never quite made it. I not only want to see KD do well for himself and his family, but for Len Bias (who many believed would’ve been the GOAT), for Dermarr Johnson (who was the pre-KD, do your homework), for all the dudes in Prince Georges County and DC who went far but didn’t realize the heights their talent may have warranted. I don’t need to be a fan of his team, I want to see KD go as far as possible…guess I’m just a hometown guy; and

2. I’m a HUGE supporter of player freedom. In sports, particularly in the NBA, teams have all kinds of leverage in their relationship with the players. They can trade them (well not Melo, shout out to the Knicks and the good ol’ No Trade Clause), cut them, bench them, etc. Players make tons of money, absolutely, but we’ve all seen countless instances of teams making decisions on the futures of the players they employ resulting in all kinds of effects on their families, children, etc., sure they make incredible amounts of money in exchange for it but historically, the balance of power in sports has favored the teams and the mega-rich/wealthy men who own them. In recent years, we’ve seen guys like Lebron (who not only signs shorter deals to keep the pressure on teams to be competitive but also is a partner in a sports-management enterprise that represents several other high-profile athletes) use their star-power to exert more influence over where they play and the conditions on those teams. Personally, I LOVE it…yes, we may lose out on some epic battles and match-ups, but as much as I love hoops, it’s BIGGER than basketball.

You see, KD is a young man who, like so many professional athletes, overcame incredible odds to reach the highest level of sports…and in kind, society (you know how we Americans love our sports). When we support sports teams, remember, we’re supporting HUMANS who simply play a game for our entertainment and their financial benefit…and the even larger financial benefit of the teams who pay them and the league those teams belong to. We don’t own these guys, we wear their jerseys and make insane judgments about who they are as people based on their respective performances, but KD, nor any other pro athlete owes us anything as fans. They sign contracts with teams, and when they fulfill the obligations of those agreements, they have the freedom to do whatever they choose afterwards and play for whatever team is willing and able to pay them.

So with all that said, KD simply exercised his freedom to work somewhere else. I’m sure he doesn’t hate OKC, I’m SURE he loves Russ and his other former teammates like brothers, but he, as a grown man, made a decision that he felt was in the best interest of his career and his family. Hoops careers are fleeting…ask Brandon Roy or Greg Oden.

If you’re blessed enough to get paid to play a game, you know you only have relatively few years to do so…and you should make the most of it…make the money while you can, play for a championship while you can…leverage your performance to build a brand and an empire while you can. KD did that, and whether we like him joining the team that defeated his just a few months before, we should support his decision to exercise his freedom to be where he wants to be.

I was rooting for the Cavs for other reasons (maybe I’ll write about that later) but I’m happy for Seat Pleasant Slim and I’m proud of homie. Continued success to him and to all the young athletes (male and female) from our area following in his footsteps.

 

 

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