By MIKE HERNDON
The 2017 NBA season is barely two weeks old and we have our first gruesome injury (Gordon Hayward in his very first game as a Celtic), the first dose of concern about one of the league favorites (the Cavs are 3-5!), the first half-dozen extraneous mentions of Lavar Ball, and the league’s first new villain since Kevin Durant put Oklahoma City in the rear-view mirror.
What, you say? Durant is still the most hated man in the NBA? There is no new competitor to that title?
Well, OK, Lonzo Ball might have a shot there, but it’s really his dad that we can’t stand and the kid hasn’t even played 10 games yet.
So I must ask: Why not Kyrie Irving?
Yes, I like his old-man-at-the-playground Pepsi commercials too, but hear me out. If we really value what we like to say we value, then Irving should be Public Enemy No. 1 in the NBA and Durant should be its role-model poster boy.
Why do professional athletes play their respective sports? To earn a living, of course. But why do we fans like to believe they play? To win championships.
We believe that because that’s what we care about. And this is not to imply that the athletes don’t – if they didn’t have an inner drive to be the best, they wouldn’t be as successful as they are. But that’s not the only reason they play. For most, I suspect, it isn’t even the main reason they play.
If you work for Acme Widgets, you may take pride in the fact that Acme produces the top-rated widget and owns the largest share of the market. But if you’re offered a job making double the money at Diversified Widgets, are you going to turn it down?
And yet, we all bash athletes who leave our favorite teams when they’re offered more money elsewhere in free agency.
Money wasn’t what drove Durant to leave Oklahoma City for Golden State, though. He left in large part because joining the Warriors gave him the best shot to win a championship, and he gets bashed for chasing rings. But aren’t championships what we want our athletes to want? Isn’t that supposed to be Durant’s goal? And if he doesn’t feel like he can get there with one team, do we begrudge him the chance to go to another?
He didn’t even waste an hour of our lives with a contrived special on ESPN to announce it. And yet we hate on him like we did LeBron.
Now comes Irving, who leaves a team that has been in the Finals the last three years in a row, a team that he helped lead to the championship just two years ago. Why? Because he wants to be the focal point of the offense.
Mr. Flat-Earth put individual statistics and glory (and, probably, endorsements like our favorite Pepsi ad) ahead of team goals (another championship) in making this decision. Where’s the vitriol? We’re suddenly understanding? He gets a pass?
There’s usually more than one reason when someone makes a change like this. But what we seem to have here is one guy who switches teams to pursue team goals – specifically, a goal that we all say should be his primary concern — and we vilify him. And we have another guy who switches teams for apparently selfish reasons – to pursue individual goals – and it’s all good. Love ya, Kyrie, especially when you’re in a gray wig dunking on those fools at the playground.
Do we really value what we say we value?