Put the Roc Nation affiliation aside for a moment. Given the way his 2013 playoff campaign ended, Kevin Durant stands poised to enter the 2013-2014 season with an added sense of bloodthirstiness. And that’s good, because so many other outside factors around him will be, too.
Narratives drive sports, especially in the world of basketball.
In the 21st century, where the mutations of Twitter, Facebook and talk radio serve as renegade kings, the logic is undeniably true in 2013. In the past two years alone, Derrick Rose went from the league’s media darling of everything right and humble to a petrified, overpaid, selfish glory hound in a tailored suit who refused to sacrifice his body as his teammates sacrificed theirs. And LeBron James has morphed from a guy who would never come through when his team needed him most to the best big-game player on the planet, bar none.
Keep in mind, Rose was coming off a career-threatening knee injury and was “cleared” to play by the team and doctors before he was mentally ready to reassume the role of floor general, distributor and leading scorer for a squad that wasn’t going to win the championship in the first place. From there, bloodhounds were set loose on Rose, and through an accompanying package of factors, every ounce of the good will Rose established beforehand was gutted.
As for James? Well, the world knows how three bad playoff series can derail a potentially all-time great career — because, really, that’s all anyone has truly lobbied at James. There was the ’07 Finals where the Cavs had no shot whatsoever vs. the Spurs, 2010 semis against Boston where his lethargic Game 5 ruined what was statistically a good series and 2011 vs. Dallas, which was the worst possible performance at the worst possible time for LeBron — the closest thing America had seen to Hollywood Hogan since Hollywood Hogan.
Narratives are great and maddening for the game all at once. And over a month ago, when the Memphis Grizzlies eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder, I witnessed the narrative change once more — this time involving Kevin Durant.
Prior to Game 5, the labels were beginning to surface. Durant and the Thunder “choked” away Game 4. Durant “folded” under the pressure with meager fourth quarter performances. Questions of Durant’s true ability as a #1 guy were beginning to surface. Where some found enjoyment (i.e., “trolling”) seeing Durant struggle to keep his team’s head above water in a battle we all knew the outcome for following Game 2, a weird feeling of déjà vu resurfaced.
It’s the exact connotation that followed LeBron for the first decade of his career. The same cloud of doubt that trailed Kobe to an extent before winning titles in 2009 and 2010 as the Lakers’ “alpha dog.” And believe it or not, the same uphill battle plagued the widely accepted GOAT to the point Michael Jordan once admitted to Pat Riley ending his career without a title was something he was willing to come to grips with. Consider it basketball’s version of “paying dues” or “Russian roulette.”