Thursday night was all about Russell Westbrook. Well, at least inside a fawning Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Elsewhere, Westbrook’s first road game against the Oklahoma City Thunder served as a backdrop for the NBA’s most inflammatory social media feud of the regular season. To no one’s surprise, Kevin Durant was at the center of it.
Even less shocking, though, is the media duplicity that sparked the exchange in the first place.
It all started on Thursday morning, when ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins fanned the flames of debate by declaring Westbrook “Mr. Thunder” ahead of the Houston Rockets’ visit to Oklahoma City.
Perkins’ aim wasn’t even thinly-veiled. By declaring Westbrook the greatest player in Thunder history, he was taking an implicit shot at Durant’s legacy in Oklahoma City.
Later that night, Durant joined in on the discussion, criticizing Perkins’ productivity when they were teammates in Oklahoma City.
The back-and-forth was only just beginning from there.
Perkins is hardly alone in finding fault with Durant’s league-shaking move from the Thunder to the Golden State Warriors in summer 2016. That hot-button decision didn’t just make the ensuing three seasons feel like a formality, but forever altered Durant’s reputation.
He immediately went from basketball’s golden boy to its pariah. Everyone from his playing peers to league analysts to casual fans decried his choice to join forces with the Warriors.
The justification behind Durant going to Golden State, though, at least partially came about as a result of criticism from that same vocal majority. Nine years into his career, coming off the Thunder’s collapse to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, Durant was still without a championship – and no one let him forget it.
Durant has two rings now, and two Finals MVP trophies. He could very well have three of both if injuries didn’t mar what turned out to be his final playoff run with Golden State.
But Durant’s title-winning hardware failed to quiet the naysayers. During their heated exchange on Thursday, Perkins went so far as to say that Durant isn’t a “real” champion.
The problem? It was Perkins who just a few tweets earlier defended his take on Westbrook being “Mr. Thunder” by alluding to Oklahoma City’s second-round playoff exit in 2013, when Westbrook was sidelined by injury.
Perkins wants to have it both ways.
He first used Durant’s inability to take the Thunder past the second round without Westbrook as evidence of the latter’s superiority. Then he cheapened Durant’s ensuing championships with the Warriors despite the near-universal consensus that he was the best player on their 2017 and 2018 title teams.
The incessant chirping of analysts like him that a player’s legacy is incomplete without a Larry O’Brien Trophy is what drove Durant to Golden State. But now that he has multiple titles, Durant is almost universally chided by media personalities for stacking the deck to get them.
That dynamic was always the most likely result of Durant leaving the Thunder for the Warriors. He’s even admitted that he hasn’t been as fulfilled as anticipated by winning championships with Golden State.
Durant isn’t above reproach. It would have been better for basketball if he stayed in Oklahoma City in 2016. But the rush to delegitimize his historic success with the Warriors reeks of duplicity.
And considering that Westbrook failed to take Oklahoma City farther than it went in 2013 once Durant left town, Perkins’ choice for “Mr. Thunder” rings just as hollow as his critique of Durant.
Last modified: January 22, 2020 11:39 PM UTC