From the whole Kevin Durant vs Stephen A. Smith media feud, ESPN are the big winners. And also the NBA. Which makes Durant the only one not coming out looking too well from this completely avoidable situation, stirring up some needless preseason drama.
Where does this begin? With Smith, a panelist on ESPN’s First Take, which is mostly about him and Skip Bayless spewing things out without having any need to be right, thoughtful or insightful. It works because a lot of people love to see that show or that type of show, and Smith is a perfect persona for it. He generates strong, often negative feelings from those who follow him and the show, but that’s the whole purpose. Often, people who hate or disagree strongly with something, tune in just so it can validate what they thought about it.
Smith said that from sources around the league (which can also mean he’s making it up. He doesn’t need to reveal the sources or anything), it seems like Durant is playing his last season for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and then mentioned a number of teams he could be headed to. Nothing new, but as always on ESPN, it generated waves of reactions. Including from Durant.
So Durant went to Twitter and said it clear and simple: Smith is a liar. Durant said he doesn’t talk to Smith, and not his family or friends talk to Smith about Durant’s plans in the 2016 free agency. But Durant probably should have made it a little less blunt, because Smith and ESPN simply got what they wanted to: More fuel for the fire.
First Smith replied by saying he never said he talked to Durant, his friends or family. And he’s right. He only said sources. But then Smith, as ESPN drags this as long as possible, went on a threat-rant, mafia style, warning Durant not to mess with him. WTF?! Yes. Who knows if this is the media persona talking or the actual person. If this is scripted by the network or a natural reaction by a journalist whose integrity has been questioned.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have been known for quite some time as anti-media. Local and national. It’s not just Durant. It’s Russell Westbrook, it’s the whole organization. It’s something or a Marshawn Lynch approach, only with some venom into the replies. They’re not trying to avoid the media. It’s about showing how much they hate the media, and how they’re not planning on “playing the game”.
But the media being so involved is part of the reason these players can make so much money. Sure, there’s the big fan aspect to it, but the media is part of it too, regardless of how much players want to ignore that fact. The media glorifying sports and making it such a big part of our lives is going to help Durant secure the biggest contract in NBA history a year from now, more or less.
Durant wants to focus on basketball, on winning a championship. But in 2015, there are other angles and parts of being an NBA player, an international star in his case. Dealing with BS reporting (or maybe truthful in this case, who knows) is part of the job. And Durant simply fell right into the trap that was set up for him, giving more air time and reason to talk about him just because he chose the wrong way to respond to the initial comments.