Kevin Durant's play speaks for itself, so bag the nickname debate

BY foxsports • February 19, 2014

Kevin Durant didn’t need a nickname, really. “The Durantula” was pretty good: a little absurd, a little derivative, but at the same time, it had a strange accuracy. The way that Durant plays, with his long limbs and fluidness and ability to be everywhere at once, he’s like a tarantula on steroids. (Sorry for conjuring that image.)

For whatever reason, though, the issue of Durant having a nickname became a thing. People tried to call him the Slim Reaper, which is terrible. He didn’t like it, which is understandable. (Nicknames shouldn’t sound like they’re trying too hard. Nothing has tried harder than “the Slim Reaper.”) Now, Durant’s suggesting a replacement: “the Servant.” This is the worst nickname of all time.

Don’t blame Durant for how bad it is. His intentions are pure: as explanation, he told Bill Simmons, “I like to serve everybody. My teammates. Ushers at the game. The fans.” That’s cool! And Durant has a rep as being a nice guy, a good teammate, agreeable, pleasant — nothing that we know of contradicts this persona. Also, Durant has, multiple times, said he was totally cool with being called KD, which seemed good enough for all of us until the inexplicable furor over giving him another callsign came to a head this year.

Herein lies the confusing part of this whole thing: why do we care? You could ask this question of every aspect of sports, like an idiot 12-year-old, but that’s not what I mean. In Durant’s case, the issue is a larger one, of Durant’s reputation in the sport. Why do we care about what we call Durant? Because Durant, more than any other NBA superstar, has always been the People’s Champ.

Durant plays for the underdog, Oklahoma City, a surprising location for a professional sports franchise and one that, for the prime of Durant’s career so far, has been doing its best to upend the West’s dynasty, the Spurs, and the league’s dominant force, the Heat. Durant has represented, for the fans, the weird realization that you can be an historic talent and still be inferior, time and time again, to another, more historic talent. You might be great, but you’re not the King.

And with Durant’s ascension to real, actual dominance this season — the best of his career, and one that, rightly or wrongly, could see him win his first MVP award — the narrative has shifted yet again. All of a sudden, the fans’ champ, the hero Durant, is putting himself on the level of LeBron, King James, the man who owns basketball.

LeBron has both a nickname and the Kobe/Michael/Wilt-level one-name status, which, as international soccer and pop music illustrate, is the truest form of icon status. With Durant reaching LeBron’s heights, the desire to make Durant into LeBron — a magisterial force, a statesman of the game — has also increased. And that means he needs a rad nickname.

So what if he doesn’t want a nickname? This sort of thing, this molding of the athlete into an avatar of the fan, has never had anything to do with what the athlete wanted. Durant may like KD, but if the fans don’t, it doesn’t matter. They’ll try and foist something on him, and then, without any other recourse, he’ll try and offer up another option. But if anyone ever calls Durant “the Servant” unironically, I will be shocked. Shocked.

Everyone’s ragging on Durant for trying to give himself a nickname, which, as everyone who’s ever been to an American high school knows, is more or less unacceptable. He didn’t really have a choice, though. If everyone is trying to call you something and you don’t like it, you need to give them alternatives and hope that one sticks.

The only other recourse is to grin and bear it, and it’s no surprise that that’s what plenty of people expect him to do; we expect our athletes to do that frequently, whether it’s listening to us bash them on Twitter without reacting, or listen to us heckle them at games without challenging us.

Expecting athletes to happily let us brand them is nothing new, and, you could argue, nothing inappropriate. Just don’t expect them to lie down if, in the case of the Slim Reaper, they don’t see that brand as something they want to be associated with. After all: KD is not nice.

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