The first thing that comes to mind seeing Kevin Durant choose to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors in free agency? LeBron James and ‘The Decision’ in 2010, when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat.
In hindsight, it worked out pretty well for James. He won two NBA championships with the Heat and two more MVP awards as well. He made his return to the Cavaliers, and won another championship, making good on his promise. He hasn’t won the MVP in three years, but he’s still the best player in the NBA (probably), and the biggest name and face of this league. For negative or positive reactions, James is still the league’s biggest persona.
But leaving the Cavaliers in 2010 changed the perception. He was suddenly turned into a villain. The way he announced it, with Twitter still not as big as it is today, and with no Players Tribune site, helped turn him from the NBA’s lovable poster child into a menace that’s easy to hate. In terms of love from the neutrals, James has never recovered. He gets more hate than anyone else in the league for simply doing what’s best for his career. Going back to Cleveland helped him. Winning the championship this year helped him even more.
On the surface, Kevin Durant did the same thing. After nine seasons with the Thunder (one in Seattle as the Sonics) he decided that the best thing for him, with the unfair criticism of players who don’t win championship rings hovering above his head and pushing him in that direction. His inner circle, according to reports, influenced him to leave. The reasons actually don’t matter anymore. Only the facts. And for those who believe in NBA loyalty, this was another slap in the face. There’s no such thing. It’s about putting yourself in the best position to achieve the goals you set out to achieve: Championships, money, individual statistics.
— Knicks Memes (@KnicksMemes) July 4, 2016
And how is this different? James joined a Miami team that won 47 games the previous season, and got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. In fact, that Heat team failed to win a playoff series since their 2006 championship. He teamed up with Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh joined them on a separate deal. Everyone was angry, but James helped lift the Heat into something: Four straight finals, two NBA championships. Of course they were going to do well, but he didn’t leave to join like what the Warriors are right now. And the Cavaliers he left? Their second best player was Mo Williams.
Durant, on the other hand, joins a Warriors team that won the championship in 2015 and in 2016 finished with an NBA record 73 wins, before losing in the NBA finals with the greatest collapse in Finals history. He joins a team with the MVP, two players on the US Olympics team, and maybe most importantly: It’s a group that beat Durant and the Thunder in the playoffs, as the Thunder choked to drop a 3-1 lead, with Durant playing terribly in crunch time during some of these losses. Durant leaves an NBA-Finals caliber team, with a top 5 player like Russell Westbrook.
Maybe it’s silly making this comparison. People shouldn’t be offended by players making these choices. James wasn’t from Cleveland (although in his case, he was from Ohio). Durant grew up in Washington D.C., played his high school basketball in Maryland & Virginia, and played college basketball in Austin, Texas. But fans don’t think this way, and the Thunder had a good thing going. Durant decided it wasn’t good enough for him. James didn’t deserve hate, and neither does Durant. But if someone was to rank who made the more treacherous move, it has to be Durant, who took the easiest way out in a level that might never be equalled again, something he personally criticized in 2010 after James left Cleveland for Miami.