Welcome To The Big Leagues, OKC

By Jeff Munn

Kevin Durant’s decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors may be frustrating to you the basketball fan, but you’re equally as frustrating.

In the days since the signing, the consistent reaction has been one of anger. How could Durant leave the team he played his whole career for? He’s cheating his way to a title! I hate super teams!

I know it can be done on the internet – go back about 20 years and look at the comments of fans when a player signed a free agent contract.

He’s just greedy! It’s all about money! He doesn’t care about winning!

Well, basketball fans, which is it?

Kevin Durant just did the one thing we ask of our athletes – he prioritized winning. He could have made a ton more money staying in Oklahoma City, but getting a ring was so important to him that he chose to join a team that has a clearer path to a title.

Okay, that doesn’t mean we ought to hold a parade for Durant (although they might in Oakland). However, we should put emotions aside and just consider a few facts.

For openers, the Warriors did not go out and construct a super team by recruiting multiple players. The Warriors were built primarily through the draft and trades. In fact, signing Durant was the only real move the Warriors have made in free agency. It wasn’t checkbook basketball that made the Warriors champions. They added one player they feel will put them back on top.

The NBA has worked through its collective bargaining process with the players to avoid this kind of scenario, but how do you legislate a man’s desire to win? Isn’t it Kevin Durant’s right to sacrifice a few million dollars to be a champion?

This isn’t new stuff, either. In 1994, the Suns, who had signed forward A.C. Green away from the Lakers the year before, added another free agent, Danny Manning, who left the Clippers, and a lot more money, to sign in Phoenix so he could chase a championship – a championship he and his team very well could have gotten had Manning not suffered a knee injury at midseason.

This is also a harsh lesson for the people of Oklahoma City. Since the Thunder arrived from Seattle in 2008, life has been pretty good for NBA fans in OKC. There was the honeymoon period the first season, playoffs the second, the Finals in the third. Since then there have been a few bumps in the road, but Thunder fans were secure in knowing their stars, Durant and Westbrook, would be there.

Then, Durant says he’s leaving.

Among the sadder stories of Monday was the father who called a national sports radio show to say he didn’t know how he was going to explain to his five-year old son that Durant wouldn’t be a Thunder anymore. One other Dad did explain it to his five-year old son, and the boy’s crying was taped by Dad and, for some reason, Dad posted it on YouTube.

Welcome to the other side of life in the big leagues, Oklahoma City. Players leave. They reject everything you love about your town and go somewhere else. It happens. Ask Cleveland. Ask Orlando. Ask Toronto.

If this is too much for Oklahomans to deal with, take heart. You can always go back to rooting for the teams in Stillwater and Norman. Of course, players leave there in many cases because they want to be paid, too.

All this leaves us wondering about Shane Doan. Time and again the Coyotes captain has rejected the notion of leaving for a chance at a Stanley Cup. His reasoning has often been based on family, and a love of the Valley. Yet, and maybe because it’s hockey, the general sports fan base in Phoenix seems to take Doan for granted.

If you’re really irked about players like Kevin Durant leaving money on the table for a chance at jumping on a winning bandwagon, here’s an idea: Why don’t you take some of YOUR money, and buy a ticket to cheer on an athlete who seems to represent what you really want?