As a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kevin Durant made me do a lot of things. Once, after dishing an alley oop to Russell Westbrook, he made me leap out of my chair in the cheap seats so hard I spilled $9 worth of beer. Another time after hitting a buzzer beating shot to win in the finals, he made me high-five a complete stranger. When he referred to his mother as “the real MVP” during his MVP acceptance speech, he made me cry.
And last night during his debut as a Golden State Warrior, Kevin Durant made me do something I never thought I would do: he made me cheer for the San Antonio Spurs.
The story of Kevin Durant’s departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder has been beaten to death. It’s been covered by so many angles that the stories are starting to conflict with one another. Kevin Durant said he would never leave Oklahoma, and then he did. Sometimes he says he left due to growing frustrations with Russell Westbrook; other times, Westbrook didn’t figure into his decision at all. Last month Kevin Durant said he and Westbrook were “still cool.” Westbrook, in response, says the two haven’t spoken since Durant left.
Strip all the “he said/she said” from the story and the fact remains that Kevin Durant left the team that put him in a pedestal for a team that made it to last year’s NBA finals. He left the team he was building for a team that he thought would bring him a championship. He broke his promise, and the heart of a city in the process.
In the film Superman II, Superman gives up his super powers to pursue a normal life with Lois Lane. In the next scene, a now mortal Clark Kent wanders into a diner and promptly gets his ass kicked by a truck driver named Rocky. By the end of the film Superman regains his powers, and one of the last things he does is return to the diner and beat up Rocky, this time as the Man of Steel.
This scene never sat right with me. As a nation, we love to win. We’re scrappers. But it’s also bred into us that punching up is okay and punching down is not. We cheer when a boxing underdog half the weight and height of his opponent pulls off a surprise upset, but rarely do we cheer when the situation is reversed and a bigger and stronger boxer pummels a weaker contender. Superman stands for “truth, justice, and the American way,” and beating up random truck drivers, whether they deserve it or not, is beneath him.
Any good auto mechanic knows you can’t upgrade one component of an engine and simply expect the car to run better. It’s about balance — how the parts of an engine work together. It’s about testing and tuning, making sure each part fits and has been properly adjusted. Performance isn’t just about the guy who can throw the most money at an engine; it’s about the guy who can make the parts he has work together.
Last night, opening night of the 2016-2017 NBA season, the Golden State Warriors debuted their new engine to the world against the San Antonio Spurs, where it unceremoniously coughed, sputtered, and died on the court. In his debut as a Warrior Kevin Durant scored 27 points and had 10 rebounds, but toss a shiny new muffler on a previously well-balanced engine and see what happens. Last night, we saw.
The Golden State Warriors, who broke the record last year for the most number of wins in a regular season, are now 0-1 after losing by 29 points to the Spurs.
GSW now has three of the best shooters in the league, but as we saw in last year’s playoffs, if one of them has a bad night it can disrupt the entire offense. Draymond Green didn’t provide enough defense to cover for his sharpshooting teammates. Curry scored 26 points behind Durant’s 27, but nobody else scored much at all. The San Antonio Spurs, on the other hand, didn’t play like a bunch of hired guns. They played like a team.
It’s hard not to assume that eventually the millions and millions of dollars Golden State has invested in players will pay off. The engine will be fine tuned. When those guys start working together they will be tough to defeat.
Here’s to everyone trying.