OAKLAND, Calif. — This summer should have been a victory lap for Kevin Durant after his sublime NBA Finals. Validation after proving himself on the biggest stage in basketball. A continuation of that magical night in late June when the Golden State Warriors clinched at home and the basketball world hailed him as the Finals MVP.
“I haven’t seen him this happy in basketball,” his mother, Wanda Durant said that night.
His brother Tony Durant went even further, “I’ve never seen him this happy, ever.”
That should have been it. The ultimate Mutumbo-esque finger-wag to his critics. The last time he had to apologize or even explain why he left the Oklahoma City Thunder as a free agent the previous summer.
He won. Na-Na-Na-Na-Na.
And yet, the critics who trolled him on social media — and some corners of the mainstream media — never really stopped.
Not after he played along with Peyton Manning’s bandwagon skit at the ESPYS.
That should’ve been a tip-off that the chorus would never stop, no matter what he does.
Winning wasn’t enough. Sacrificing financially wasn’t enough. Laughing at himself wasn’t enough.
So just stop trying to win over the remaining trolls.
Stop giving them power over him.
Of course, we all know what happened next. Durant told USA Today he woke up from a nap, checked his phone and responded to one of those trolls in an odd third-person voice that made it seem as if he were writing from a secret account and forgot to switch. He dissed his former coach and teammates in a way that made him sick within minutes of realizing what he’d done.
Durant denied the secret account theory, but the internet detectives on Reddit and Twitter had already been unleashed. An Instagram account that was once mentioned by his brother Tony, and followed by Draymond Green and Thunder forward Andre Roberson, was quickly identified by SB Nation’s Tim Cato.
It was all spiraling, which only added to the internal angst he already felt. There was nothing left to do but own it and apologize profusely, which he did on Tuesday at TechCrunch.
Friday at the Golden State Warriors media day, Durant steered clear of the topic altogether, saying he has addressed it, apologized, owned his mistake and moved on.
But generally speaking, “I’ve moved on” or its cousin “let’s move on” is something a person has to say multiple times to even begin to start that process. It’s a way of making uncomfortable questions stop and of stating an intention. But it doesn’t mean the moving on has actually happened. It certainly hasn’t with Durant. He’s still sick over the whole ordeal. This week was awful for him. Friends, teammates and Warriors coaches and executives tried to comfort him afterward. Green, who had his own regrettable social media moment last year, “laughed in his face.”
But for a sensitive person like Durant, this isn’t something that can be digested in a few days.
Even the unflappable Warriors can’t quite laugh this off yet. Normally Steve Kerr would splice a reference to the embarrassing incident into a film session, Green would make fun of it, and that would be that. Humor and winning have a way of disinfecting just about any situation.
But this one is harder. Not because of the damage done to Billy Donovan or his former teammates in Oklahoma City. They’ll get over it.
No, this one’s harder because Kevin Durant isn’t happy the way he should be after winning the title and Finals’ MVP last season.
He should still be basking in the post-championship glow, not being comforted by Kerr with stories of the coach’s own foot-in-mouth moments or commiserating with Green over joining the social media Hall of Shame.
Maybe this will end up being a good thing. After taking the high road all of last season, Durant has seemingly unburdened himself of the real reasons he left OKC. No more pretending. Whether he intended to go public with those feelings or not, he did. So now it’s out there and everyone can deal with it, including Durant himself.
Maybe this will get him off of social media, or at least lessen his engagement with it.
Maybe Russell Westbrook will decline to sign his extension and leave Oklahoma City too.
For now though, Durant’s just trying to digest it and find his way back to happy.
“He knows he made a mistake,” Kerr said. “He’s embarrassed by it. As I told him, I’ve said a lot of things over my life that I’ve been embarrassed about. It’s part of being a human being.”