“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
One of the more iconic quotes from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, this one statement from Harvey “Two-Face” Dent has also become a popular term to describe sports figures who make questionable decisions. Case in point? Kevin Durant, who signed a contract with the rival Golden State Warriors last month in a hunt for the elusive championship, leaving Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder behind.
Now, as his new superstar helps Team USA contend for gold in the 2016 Rio Olympics, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is fed up with the hate that Durant has been receiving. Kerr, who is entering his third season as the Warriors’ head coach, said the following on Sunday in an interview on ESPN Radio’s TMI with Michelle Beadle and Ramona Shelburne.
“To think of Kevin Durant or Steph Curry or any of our guys as villains, it’s kind of absurd. Especially Kevin. This is one of the most likable people in this league. He’s just an awesome human being. What he did in Oklahoma City was just amazing for that community…. Circumstances kind of dictate, I guess, that some people are going to see him as a villain. But it’s only because he decided to go elsewhere to play. He wanted to change his scenery, he wanted a new challenge. More than anything he wanted to play with our guys. He loves Draymond [Green] and Steph and Klay [Thompson] and Andre [Iguodala]. Seeing those guys in New York, he loved seeing the chemistry that exists and he wanted to be a part of it.”
Durant, of course, committed the “villainous” act of leaving Oklahoma City — the franchise that drafted him second overall in 2007 when they were still the Seattle SuperSonics — for the record-setting, nearly back-to-back champion Golden State Warriors. Just in pursuit for a title, Durant paired up with Draymond Green, the Warriors’ star forward, who had gotten into physical altercations with Durant in the past. Just to take home a ring, Durant accepted potentially being the fourth option in an offense that already features Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the “Splash Brothers,” who have changed the modern NBA game.
Is it possible that Kevin Durant, one of the general good guys in the NBA right now, could possibly have really become a villain just because of where he’s playing his basketball? Well… maybe.
The thing is, and Kerr probably understands it deep down as both a former player and executive, villains are always going to be cast in sports once they get that big contract or they separate themselves from the norm. Whether Durant was one of the most likable people in the NBA or an egotistical, selfish jerk who only cared about how many points he could put up, leaving Oklahoma City meant that the former MVP was going to replace the LeBron James and Dwight Howards of the world as the Joker to the NBA’s Batman.
Go back to 2010 where LeBron James and Chris Bosh, two of the nicest superstars in the entire league and two guys who have always been team players even with awful supporting casts, were instantly hailed as villains for leaving Cleveland and Toronto respectively in order to join Dwyane Wade in Miami. It didn’t matter that both were doing what was best for them and their careers. What mattered was the narrative, which is that they quit on the teams that drafted them for an easy championship.
And Durant, who is joining a Golden State team that almost makes the 2010-11 Miami Heat look like the current Chicago Bulls, understands the pressure and the villain mantra. Last month at Team USA training camp, Durant even admitted that there was a slight fear of retaliation from upset fans.
“For a few days after, I didn’t leave my bed, because I was like, ‘If I walk outside somebody might just hit me with their car, or say anything negative to me.’ I mean, I’ve been somewhere for so long, and then to make a change like that, [which] nobody knew was coming, that nobody didn’t think I would do, of course I didn’t know how it would be received afterward. But at some point, I just said, ‘Look, man, life goes on. Life moves on, and I can’t hide forever,’ so I just had to face it.”
Ironically, while James lost the villain mantle for good after returning to Cleveland after the 2013-14 season — though many argue it was gone by the time his second season with the Heat started and fans just got used to the fact he was no longer in Cleveland — Durant may be stuck with the name for just a bit longer. Winning a championship this year with Golden State, which is no certainty due to improvements made by the San Antonio Spurs out west, would only add to the fire that now burns in the form of the former top two pick being a villain.
Fact is, and Kerr may not want to hear it, but it’s going to be hard for Durant to escape the narrative if the Warriors win in year one. James, for all of his flaws in the way he handled leaving Cleveland, was mainly able to escape being the villain because the Heat didn’t blow everyone out of the water in that first year of the big three. People forget that when the regular season concluded, the Heat weren’t even the top seed in the Eastern Conference because Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls had arguably the team’s best season since Michael Jordan left (the second time).
By not bombing the way some expected him to but not destroying all of the competition like others did, James reminded viewers that, yes, he was a human being who just wanted to win and enjoy playing with his friends. And, even as Skip Bayless and other media pundits wanted to keep making him this type of villain who could never succeed in the clutch, James used that 2011 NBA Finals loss to turn his reputation around.
Granted, the same could happen for Durant, but what happens if he opts out of his contract if things don’t go well this year? What if he opts out immediately after winning a title? James, in large part due to how contracts worked a bit different back in 2010, at least stayed for four years and really only went back to Cleveland because A.) he’d accomplished all he could in Miami and B.) felt obligated and wanted the challenge of bringing a championship back to Cleveland.
A one-and-done for Durant, despite him not signing a massive max deal with Golden State, would cement him as either someone who couldn’t handle the heat or someone who wanted an easy championship. By this time next year, are NBA fans going to be calling Durant a villain with the same hatred and malice that they are now to the point where he’s getting racial slurs and death threats on his Twitter? Probably not, but is Durant currently deserving of the villain title? Without a doubt, yes.
The one thing that Durant haters should take pride in, though, is that the villains never win.
[Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images]