The Endless Ennui of Kevin Durant

If the Warriors' all-world forward can't be content, what chance does anyone else have?

Why in the world is Kevin Durant so angry?

It’s a relevant question, given the surly, angry, and incredibly short press availability that Durant held last Thursday, after about a week of not speaking with the media whatsoever. And it’s a difficult question to answer because, well, he’s Kevin Durant: two-time, defending NBA Champion, multi-millionaire many times over, super-celebrity with every opportunity in the world available to him, and widely acknowledged to be among the best handful of people in the world at what he does.

On a micro level, the reasons for Durant’s displeasure seem pretty straightforward. He has long been rumored to be departing the Warriors team that is gunning for its third championship. And such talk was widely reported to be the cause of a major blow-up, earlier this season, between he and teammate Draymond Green. For some months now, the Knicks have been floated by those in the know as a potential destination for the former MVP, given that business manager Rich Kleiman has New York ties, good friend Royal Ivey is an assistant coach at the Garden, and obviously, the Knicks have been a pillar of stability and success over the past two decades.

Ok maybe scratch that last one.

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In any event, when the Knicks dealt their former potential superstar to create the cap space to hopefully sign their next one, it was only natural that Durant would be asked about his future, and wouldn’t you know, he could see the unpleasant questions coming before they even arrived.

“I have nothing to do with the Knicks,” noted Durant, with perhaps just a touch of the man doth protest too much, given that nobody had actually asked him about the Knicks, “I don’t know who traded [Kristaps] Porzingis. It ain’t got nothing to do with me. I’m trying to play basketball. Y’all come in here every day ask me about free agency, ask my teammates, my coaches, rile up the fans about it. Let us play basketball.”

In the moment then, Durant’s ire was directed at the press, and more specifically, The Athletic reporter Ethan Strauss, who has written extensively on the general sense within the organization that Durant moving on following the season may, in fact, be a fait accompli. But towards the very end of his angry response, one might argue that the grievances became a bit broader, his questions, more rhetorical. Turn your ear just a little, and Kevin Durant isn’t just interrogating the media, but the broader world that surrounds him.

“I come in here and go to work every day. I don’t cause no problems. I play the right way, or I try to play the right way. I try to be the best player I can be every possession. What’s the problem?”

What’s the problem indeed?

If there’s an answer to that question, it’s one that Kevin Durant isn’t alone in seeking. All across the NBA landscape, a sense of ennui, of frustration, of general malaise, seems to have taken hold. The entire reason Durant would fit so comfortably into New York’s cap space, after all, is that the aforementioned Porzingis reportedly grew dissatisfied with the team’s long term strategy and requested a ticket out of town, even as he continues to rehab a serious leg injury.

The Porzingis deal ended up being the biggest of the deadline stretch, but only because Anthony Davis wasn’t accomodated in his stated desire to move on from the New Orleans Pelicans, after six-plus seasons of general aimlessness. Davis’ preferred destination, again, according to reports, was the Los Angeles Lakers, where he undoubtedly would have formed a formidable tandem with LeBron James, who, instead, is now stuck on a borderline playoff team, a few folding chairs down from a bunch of kids who may or may not resent the fact that they were all deemed eminently disposable. And so, the quest for future stars to pair will LeBron will drag on until the summer, where it will include Davis, and Kawhi Leonard, who may want to play in Los Angeles, but probably not with LeBron, and Kyrie Irving, who played with LeBron, and then engineered his own trade because he grew sick of it, but now may be willing to again, given that he’s possibly grown tired of his young teammates in Boston? Oh, and let’s not forget the situation in Philadelphia, where Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Jimmy Butler are winning games, but don’t always appear to be having a blast meshing together while doing it, and oh by the way, turns out there’s another big name who just arrived who will also be vying for shots and attention.


The NBA is built on its superstars, and so it’s safe to say that at the moment, the state of the league is one of constant flux. The short-term contracts and frequent player movement has undeniably been fantastic for the business of the league, with the transactional, soap-opera nature of things helping to turn pro basketball into a captivating reality show, and a national,  12-month-a-year preoccupation. The ability of star players to take control of their own destiny, in a way that most observers agree is unique within American team sports, is undeniably great for a league built on these personalities, and, presumably, given the freedom, and dollars involved, for the personalities themselves.

So why do they all seem so dissatisfied?

Part of it, undoubtedly, is a product of the fundamentals of human nature. The grass is always greener. The heart wants what it can’t have. Be careful what you wish for or you just might get it. That sort of thing. It’s easy to understand why someone might suffer from wanderlust, particularly a wealthy young man, in peak physical condition, who has to this point in his life smashed through every obstacle in his way, and thus believes quite strongly that he can do the same with the next challenge.

But it also must be said that part of this widespread malaise may stem from the fact that with this greater autonomy, comes greater expectations, both internal and external. Life as an NBA superstar, at least within the narrative we’ve currently constructed, means achieving not just a singular goal, but a plethora of them, and often in ways that conflict or contradict with one another. Be a champion, yes, just make sure not to be a ring chaser. Make sure to go out and recruit talent, but don’t tamper with anyone. Shape a franchise in your image, while at the same time, playing well with others. Build and nurture your personal brand, as long as you keep the focus on basketball, first and foremost. Take over the world, but please, make sure you’re humble about it.

Is it any wonder, then, that the superstars of today’s NBA have such a hard time finding contentment? For all but the most self-actualized individual, a major part of personal satisfaction comes from achieving the goals that society has laid out for them. And given that these titans of the hardwood have become the closest thing we have to real-life superheroes, we have naturally asked the world of them. Win games, speak out, develop teammates, embrace the community, leave a legacy, kiss babies, win friends, influence people and just generally be everything to everyone.

Is that really so much to ask?

Kevin Durant’s career has, to this point, checked literally every single “NBA Superstar” box along the way. After a rookie season in Seattle, he arrived as the centerpiece of the team’s relocation to Oklahoma City, becoming a franchise player in the truest sense. By his third season, he was an All-Star. By 2012, his Thunder made their way to the NBA Finals, and by 2014, he was giving one of the most memorable, (and memeable) MVP acceptance speeches of all time, deflecting credit and heaping praise on teammates and family.

The only thing missing, once Oklahoma City’s premature playoff exits began to become something of a habit, was a championship, and so Durant went west, joining a Warriors outfit that had already been to the promised-land, and immediately trading one narrative for another. Instead of a superstar who just couldn’t get his team over the hump, Durant was now an opportunist who ran from that burden altogether, a mercenary who hitched his wagon to an outfit that had already climbed the mountain. Was that fair? Who’s to say really. The point is that it stuck, just like Dirk Nowitzki the soft foreigner, Kevin Garnett the cursed underachiever, and LeBron James the so-so shooter who lacked the clutch gene. Being an NBA superstar means being defined by others, often without logic, or evidence, and in the most convoluted ways possible. Kevin Durant won his second NBA title by hitting a go-ahead three pointer over the consensus greatest player in the world. But his time in the Bay Area has been defined not by who he has beaten, but by who is he playing alongside, and as long as the Steph, Klay, Draymond, and now Boogie Cousins are alongside him, goes the reasoning, just how great can he be, really?

Putting aside, for a moment, the notion that true superstar salvation can be found by joining the New York Knicks, it is perhaps not all that surprising that Durant would change teams, yet again, in search of the only thing that has eluded him in his career thus far: tranquility. In that sense, Durant is perhaps the perfect superstar for the millennial age. Undeniably talented, incredibly accomplished, and yet forever in pursuit of the next achievement. Speaking of narrative, it has been posited with increasing frequency that ours is the burnout generation, and as such, why shouldn’t we have our own NBA avatar, destined to clear one hurdle after another, only to be told, if not directly, than by our demanding sports culture, to do it again, to do it with his own team, to do it with a slightly less overpowering cast of characters, and to do it in a way that finally completes the saga that has been constructed, of Kevin Durant against the world.

Back in February of 2014, a couple of years before his fateful move to Golden State, Kevin Durant got an early taste of what it was like to have his own wishes, his own instincts, thoroughly rejected by the public at large. Appearing on Bill Simmons’ podcast, Durant was asked about the “Slim Reaper” moniker that others had bestowed on him, and he expressed that were it up to him, “The Servant” was a preferred nickname.

“I just like to serve everybody,” Durant explained, “My teammates, ushers at the game, fans. Just serve everybody.”

The nickname was, in something of a portentous preview of how things would unfold moving forward, thoroughly mocked and rejected by the NBA media. And for good reason! “The Servant” was, on its face, an objectively awful nickname, and not merely due to the self-evidently terrible optics of the star of a majority black league controlled almost exclusively by white team owners, referring to himself as somehow subservient to anyone. No, it also fell short, as noted at the time by Deadspin’s Tom Ley, and others, because it attempted to glorify the notion of Durant as the unselfish, egoless teammate who played the game the right way.

Durant’s game, then as now, was and is unimpeachable, from any angle. He is, on the court, an incredibly efficient player who operates seamlessly in the context of his offense, thereby allowing others to thrive. There was, therefore, nothing truly incorrect about the notion of KD as facilitator, but as Ley noted, a nickname that celebrated that aspect of his game, while ignoring his competitiveness, aggression, and ruthless shotmaking, was undeniably incomplete.

And yet, however accurate it may have been, It was one more instance of the basketball intelligentsia telling Durant that no, you don’t understand what we want you to be. That seems, even today, to be a constant in his career arc. Nothing, from the awards he’s claimed, to the titles he’s won, to the nickname that he once chose for himself, ever seems to be the right fit. If you’re wondering why KD, in 2019, never seems quite at peace, perhaps it’s worth asking why he’s never been able to satisfy us either.

And so, all these years later, allow me to suggest a new nickname for KD. It’ll come off a little strange at first, undoubtedly, a bit incongruous. But over time, I truly feel like “Basketball Sisyphusmay end up being the perfect fit. Kevin Durant, one of the greatest to ever do it, forever pushing a boulder up the hill that is NBA Twitter, (burners and all), from now until eternity. He’s been an All-Star, he’s been a champion, he’ll be a first ballot Hall of Famer. The only thing that may elude him, is gratification.

But hey, it’s not all bad. If he’s lucky, James Dolan might just write a song about him.

Alex Goot
Alex Goot
Alexander Goot is a sports television producer and occasional freelance writer. He still believes in Linsanity, Chad Pennington, and the New York Mets, but he will never embrace the designated hitter



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