This one time my friends and I got together behind a Sutherland’s in Muskogee to watch a buddy fight some kid from a rival school. They’d had some problems with each other, some girl stuff, and had wanted to settle the dispute via physical combat in an abandoned parking lot that used to belong to a movie theater that got shut down because rats started to build neighborhoods there. We were all excited. We didn’t get to see a ton of fights and here one was brought out for us to enjoy by two guys who hated each other. We were expecting bloody fireworks to pop off.
Both dudes took their shirts off, because of course they did, and the other guy asked my friend “Concrete or grass?” referencing the fact that the parking lot was bordered by a field that they could fight in if they chose to. One of the funnier lines I’ve ever heard. They both agreed on concrete, both appearing tougher, I guess, for it.
When the fight started they squared up and danced some, fists ahead of them like how I imagine they’d seen guys do it on TV. Soon the other guy shot in on my friend, trying to tackle him to the ground. My friend stood him up and forced the guy to the ground, wrapped his arms around his head and started to guillotine him. The guy tapped out quickly. My buddy let him go. There were no punches thrown. It lasted around fifteen seconds. It was anti-climactic.
They went at it again, at our behest, and once more my friend took the guy to the ground and started to guillotine him. Guy taps again. My friend lets him up again. No punches thrown.
This goes on two more times and people start to get restless and toss out the idea of one of them swinging on the other. Neither seem to think that’s a good idea. We all just kind of stand there in the hot night looking for cops. Some guys make jokes about the two groups fighting each other but those don’t really land and we all sit there and sip on our Sonic drinks trying to convince the two to go at it one more time. We do that right up until we see an SUV scream into the parking lot. It’s my buddy’s mom. She found out about the fight, somehow, and had driven over from Fort Gibson to stop it. The mom said she’d called the cops and they were on their way and we’d better leave fore they got there. We all bolted.
Till today, that fight was the dumbest thing I’d ever seen.
* * *
And so this is it. After all the bells and whistles and songs and parties and made jumpers, the season — once promising — comes down to a team on the ropes trying to walk inside an enemy’s house and take from them a win.
This is survival and nothing else. There are no more faux-moral victories, as if such a thing can exist in playoff basketball, people shouting about how we played badly and still had a shot to win it so, see, we’re the better team. That logic only helps you sleep until your team has three losses in a series…………
I was going to start my piece today like that. Set up the scene, establish a mood — in a rather lame way, actually, as I look back on it. Matter of fact, I’d written the whole thing. It was loaded and updated and saved on the admin side of WordPress. I was ready to email Royce and tell him I’d submitted the piece for review. Then I saw this and my morning, an otherwise pleasant one centering around Twitter and a pretty nice bagel from Einstein Bros, was ruined.
I went back into WordPress and deleted most everything because I MEAN COME ON. There’s critiquing a player who’s shown a history of letting a squad down in big games, and there’s calling perhaps the single most reliable guy in the league — a guy who by himself kept the Thunder a contender for half a season by playing some of the best basketball we’ve seen in the history of the world — the exact opposite of what he is.
Mr. Unreliable? For real? Look, I’m about as homer as one can be about the Thunder, I have a Thunder car flag for crying out loud so I can’t be super duper trusted to bring forth a fair and balanced point of view — the job of this column in the first place is to approach things as a fan — but by any estimation, Thunder fan or otherwise, this is some Skip Bayless type stuff. Kevin Durant is the reason the Thunder are here at all. Without that guy, with Westbrook hurt all year, we’re in the lottery.
Regardless what happens tonight, Durant had one of the more remarkable seasons in memory. He was the clear MVP of the league and elevated his game to ridiculous levels. He’s having a rough series, yes, but Mr. Unreliable? Dude. That’s a bad look.
Kevin Durant put the team on his back for an entire year and carried them to the second best record in the league, playing better basketball than a guy who the entire planet thought was far and away the best player in the world. Durant did that. Without his #2, his Robin, whatever devise term you want to coin Westbrook, Durant kept the Thunder at the top of the league. He wasn’t merely competitive, he was destructive, and devastatingly so. And whether the Thunder win or lose tonight, that doesn’t change that fact. Durant played the best basketball that any of us could’ve asked him to for a year. He gets stifled by a handsy Tony Allen and an offensive system that puts him behind the 8-ball before he starts and now he’s unreliable? Did you mean to have that headline with a picture of Scott Brooks holding whiteboard in his hands? What world is this?
This is shorter than it should be because when I’m bothered I can’t think straight. It’s a wonder this wasn’t all cuss words. Kevin Durant was the best basketball player on the face of the earth this season. For people to let a few mediocre games change how they feel about a player that was otherwise phenomenal is gross to me. That lack of foresight, that inability to see any picture other than the tiny one that’s right in front of your face, that’s disheartening. Trying too hard to sell papers.
Dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.
* * *
I wrote all that right after I saw the headline, my fanhood boiling over a little too much, no doubt. And now, in the mid day fog that comes with a 1 hour news cycle, the story has been dipped and flipped and tripped as most stories like this do. The Internet is the swiftest moving thing on earth and people reacted to the headline as I did and The Oklahoman reevaluated. They’ve since issued an apology. Durant hasn’t been good this series, that criticism is fair — he should be put on blast for how he’s played against Memphis, with a good deal of the blame also headed Brooks’ way for the plainness of the offense — but to paint the picture that he’s become unreliable across the board is wrong. That might not have been what the paper was trying to do, but that’s how it came off. Maybe we all overreacted. Maybe we didn’t. No matter, the headline did what it was intended to do. People are talking about the paper like never before.
Hopefully this is a blip after tonight, though. Hopefully it’s just a thing to put in a 30 for 30 someday. Hopefully Durant comes out and shows out. Hopefully he turns the clock back to January.