The Warriors are shaping up to be the worst supervillains in NBA history. Sunday night, ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported Golden State was “furious” about the way Oklahoma City handled Kevin Durant’s initial return to OKC in February. The Warriors expected more recognition for contributions Durant made to the Thunder in his nine seasons with the franchise. The bottom line, however, is that the Thunder and Durant don’t owe each other anything. Let’s unpack this situation a little bit further.
On one hand, if Durant was truly upset about how he was received in OKC by the fans or the team itself, the Warriors wouldn’t be completely out of line in stepping up for their own guy. But why not do it during pregame interviews and put a face on the criticism? The Warriors catch a lot of heat for some of their public missteps (“light years,” “In his feelings,” blowing a 3-1 lead) but it’s actually refreshing how honest and candid most of the team is with the media. By leaking their frustration through unnamed sources, the Warriors are showing a level of passive aggressiveness that is stupid at worst and eye-roll inducing at best. But if Steve Kerr told reporters at shootaround he expected the Thunder to show more respect for Durant, OKC may actually be compelled to respond in a thoughtful way.
Durant didn’t handle his exit from OKC poorly, but he didn’t handle it extremely well. There’s no real good way to leave a team in this situation. Not calling your best teammate and having him find out on The Players’ Tribune like the rest of us isn’t exactly ideal, however. If Durant is actually angry at OKC for not showing him more recognition, he needs to think about how the organization is desperate to keep Russell Westbrook, and how it would look to Russ if the Thunder were publicly lauding his No. 1 enemy.
Durant made the decision that was best for him, and the Thunder actually handled it the best they could. Sam Presti praised Durant in a subsequent press conference, and as far as we know, nobody went full Pat Riley and told Durant he was making the biggest mistake of his life. Presti also acknowledged Durant in the days leading up to the game, although the statement wasn’t exactly a fawning review if we’re being forced to parse it. If Durant should be allowed the freedom to make his own choices, I generally believe the Thunder should be allowed to excommunicate him if they want to, even if that’s petty or childish.
But apparently the people in OKC are better than I am, because they’ve achieved a base level of niceness toward Durant that seems appropriate for the situation. Fans should in no way be expected to act the same (even if it’s the right thing to do), and conflating the fan reaction with the organizational reaction is a misread of the situation. Would it be great if everyone acted like a rational human and Durant was treated like someone who switched between a sales job at Gap and a manager job at Banana Republic? Sure! But that would ignore the history of sports. Nothing about this industry is rational.
The Warriors Aren't Well-Liked
The Warriors are annoying. They blow out opponents while glee and dancing—which is very fun! But then they seemingly complain every time they aren’t treated with kid gloves. The team will happily shell out for supervillain balloons for a party, but when one of their players is actually treated like a villain, they anonymously complain to the media. (And let’s not forget about Warriors players happily sporting cupcake shirts after their win in OKC.) Golden State really needs to get used to not being liked. It almost doesn’t make sense, not with Stephen Curry’s electrifying style of play, Steve Kerr’s honesty and the team’s overall accessibility. But when you have won consistently with a brash attitude on the court, why are you expecting to have made friends?
Embrace Being The Bad Guy
Here’s how I score this, ultimately. The Warriors should expect a hostile reaction in Oklahoma City and nothing less. It’s really not the job of the Thunder organization to police how their fans feel about Durant. If OKC’s blanket policy is not to do video tributes to returning players, then Durant needs to live with what Presti has said publicly. If the Thunder are willing to live with the consequences—real or imagined—of not embracing Durant and what that means for their future stars, then they have handled the situation appropriately. And the Warriors need to stop complaining and start twirling their goatees. You’re the bad guys! It’s time to actually accept it.