Kevin Durant is right about one thing: the NBA is definitely a circus. A weird kind of circus, to be sure, but a circus nevertheless.
That was the description of the league used by the Brooklyn Nets’ new frontman in a Wall Street Journal Magazine interview released on Tuesday, in which he revealed that he is not always enamored with the “game beyond the game“ hoopla that comes with being a truly elite basketball player.
“Some days I hate the circus of the NBA,” Durant said. “Some days I hate that the players let the NBA business, the fame that comes with the business, alter their minds about the game. Sometimes I don’t like being around the executives and politics that come with it. I hate that.”
In some ways, Durant’s point taps into the reality that the NBA is a very different kind of league, one that is far more storyline-driven than any other. Drama is the lifeblood of pro hoops throughout the interminable slog of the regular season, the tension-filled playoffs, and the long summer layoff. And the players, especially the ones who embrace it, are the central characters.
The sport’s fan base is passionate and seemingly never satisfied in its quest to know more about its heroes, and the players are active participants in that torrent of information. Durant has 17.8 million followers on Twitter and 11.4 million on Instagram. He revealed his decision to move to Brooklyn via the Instagram page of his television show, The Boardroom, and yes, there is the extremely awkward fact that he used burner Twitter accounts to clap back at online critics a few years ago.
Yet there is overwhelming evidence that the evolution of the NBA into a league of conversation – much of it thoughtful, some of it hyped and overblown, some of it puerile – works spectacularly well for both the league and its players.
Consider this: on a Tuesday in September, coming out of the opening weekend of the NFL season, a player who may not suit up for his team at all this year became one of the sports world’s biggest trending topics … merely by giving his thoughts on the effects of fame and how it influences his profession.
“KD owes me an apology. Remember when I said: ‘KD is finding out he’ll never be accepted like Steph and Klay?’ Then KD went on Twitter and said that was an ignorant statement? Now the very thing I said, he’s talking about in an article.” — @ShannonSharpepic.twitter.com/Eg3IvPTrho
— FS1 (@FS1) September 11, 2019
“I understand where KD is coming from,” FOX Sports’ NBA insider Chris Broussard told me in a telephone conversation Tuesday afternoon. “The circus surrounding the NBA is real. What makes the NBA so popular – in addition to the greatness of the players – is the storylines and the drama.
“The thing KD really hates –and he has stated this to me privately and publicly – he hates people psychoanalyzing him. Every move he makes and everything he says; he hates people determining what that means and what it says about his mentality and him as a person. And I get it.
“But one thing I have communicated to KD, by (direct message), is that it comes with the territory. Any time you are in a public job: sports, politics, media, entertainment, any time the job is public, this comes with it. It is this type of scrutiny and more.”
Durant is intelligent and thoughtful, yet prone to mini explosions of temper. He would sometimes be sulky and gruff with Golden State Warriors beat reporters, then offer far more insight than any other player a day later. He sounded off on the fawning manner in which he said the press treats LeBron James, but in doing so gave a legitimate, thoughtful and ultimately prescient take of why many big names may be disinterested in joining the Lakers.
Broussard himself even got caught up in one of Durant’s moods. After the analyst referenced a lengthy online conversation between the pair on air, Durant tweeted “U don’t have my number,” conveniently ignoring the fact that the discussion had taken place via direct message.
No one is suggesting it is easy being the center of attention, all the time. The conflict comes in the level of attention and compensation that, as a group, sets NBA players apart from every other athlete group in the country.
“Kevin Durant’s life was totally different in OKC. It suddenly changed when he went to Golden State. He’s figured some things out. I like how honest he was about ‘I went there trying to fit in.'” — @criscarter80 pic.twitter.com/mEAd0duALi
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) September 11, 2019
“What he and other athletes have to understand is that if not for the media circus, you wouldn’t be making the hundreds of millions of dollars you are making,” Broussard added. “The media is what makes your sport so big and popular. Putting the games on TV and hyping them up – the radio shows and newspapers – the media is a necessary component of your sport being so popular and generating so much money.
“(Durant’s popularity) speaks to him being one of the top five players in the world: that everyone wants to talk about him and is concerned with the things he is doing and saying. Two, it speaks to him being a player that speaks his mind and that he is engaged so much. If he wanted to be a bland, nondescript personality, then he could. But KD, to his credit in a lot of cases, is out there.”
These are interesting times for Durant and for the NBA. While the Warriors were a basketball juggernaut that seemingly had all eyes on them, Durant is now in the biggest media market in the country and has a year to get himself ready after that awful Achilles injury sustained in the playoffs. If you thought he got a lot of media coverage before, you haven’t seen anything yet.
He is one of the more fascinating characters in sports if only for this truth: that even while making more than $40 million per season, he still cares deeply what people think. He has a lot to say and he says it – and more often than not, he makes salient points.
Interview situations like the WSJ piece, where he has time to put his ideas across in the way he wants, are when he represents himself the best. Yet just hours later he was dueling back and forth online with Oklahoma City Thunder fans over a section of the interview that appeared to criticize them.
Before long he will be back on the court. But even while injured and rehabbing, he is still in the circus … or maybe, he’s running the circus, as the savviest ringmaster of all.
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) September 11, 2019