The Sure Thing: Why Kevin Durant's Choice Is Uninspiring

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Kevin Durant will be joining the Golden State Warriors next season; he's the 2014 NBA MVP and will play alongside Stephen Curry, the 2015 and 2016 NBA MVP. Keith Allison/Flickr

"To arrive at this moment, he had traveled vast distances, enduring many hardships. Abject poverty, starvation, show tunes, you name it. From across the room, he saw her. She was perfect. He knew almost nothing about her and she didn't know much more about him. It was exactly how it was supposed to be."

The Sure Thing

That film was released in 1985, a few years before his birth, so Kevin Durant may never have heard of Walter "Gib" Gibson or The Sure Thing. Marooned on an unnamed New England campus where the weather was bleak, his academic prospects bleaker and his prospects with co-eds bleaker still, Gib (John Cusack) yearned for a little sunshine in his life. As the days grew shorter and colder, a friend attending UCLA sent a postcard depicting a nubile woman in a bikini basking in the sunshine and scrawled the following words: "This is the ugliest girl in California."

Before long, Gib was embarking on a road trip in hormonal pursuit of, as the film's title overtly states, the sure thing. However, with the lights low, the mood right and the Valkyrie willing, Gib was overcome by an existential crisis. Should the ultimate conquest be this...easy?

Earlier this week, Durant became the latest—and, at 6-foot-11, one of the tallest—in a long line of young men seduced by the charms of (the) Golden State. The nine-year NBA veteran was lured by the Golden State Warriors, who less than six weeks ago denied Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder a berth in the NBA Finals by overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the NBA's Western Conference Finals. The 2014 NBA MVP chose not to resign with the franchise where he had spent his entire NBA career, thus becoming the most polarizing figure to migrate from Oklahoma to California since Tom Joad.

Durant's departure has launched dozens of think pieces (you are currently reading one) and thermal diatribes (aka "hot takes") during what is traditionally one of the sports year's more moribund weeks. So, sure, the magnitude of both vitriol and praise that accompanies Durant's exodus—as The New York Times put it, "OKC ya"—is partly a product of a sports rant void that required filling.

However, Durant's choice also resonates because the seven-time All-Star just drew a line, or a 3-point arc, in the sand. He compelled sports fans, whether they realize it or not, to examine their values. Nearly all sports arguments, after all, are proxies for value-based debates. At the epicenter of this debate is the question: What matters more, the journey or the destination? Put another way: Is there more to life than "Just win, baby?"

Durant has always been a superstar of the people, dropping in on a flag football game at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, for example. Three years ago, after tornadoes ravaged the Oklahoma City metro area, Durant donated $1 million less than 24 hours later. He may be 83 inches tall (taller, say most who have stood next to him), but Durant never behaved as if his stature, physical or financial, afforded him an exalted spot. He genuinely seemed to enjoy being a part of his adopted home, even if that home had been transplanted from Seattle to Oklahoma City after his rookie season.

In fact, as Royce Young reminded ESPN readers earlier this week, as a younger man Durant railed against the very action he just took. In the summer of 2010, he chided LeBron James and a few others on Twitter for chasing rings:

Times and priorities change. The curiosity of Durant's decision is that, unlike James pre-Heat, he was not in a hopeless place. He was the four-chambered heart of, at worst, the third-best team in the world. Durant led the NBA in scoring for five consecutive seasons (2010 to 2014) and finished third this season, but he was not a solo act. Point guard Russell Westbrook—who, like Durant, is 27—was MVP of the All-Star Game the past two years. As a duo, they may have lacked a catchy nickname, but they were as lethal as any pairing in the NBA, James and Kyrie Irving included.

Durant and Westbrook had been teammates for the past eight seasons for a franchise in a state that has no other pro sports franchise. After Oklahoma City lost Game 7 to Golden State in Oakland, more than 1,000 Thunder fans turned out to Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City the next afternoon to welcome them home. Nearly as many had flocked to that same airport after midnight on a weeknight a few days earlier after the Thunder lost Game 5 to the Warriors.

Durant had no lack of fan adulation, a teammate who is arguably as valuable as he is, and contracts with the Thunder and Nike that earned him roughly $50 million per year. His first-year head coach, Billy Donovan, is terrific and the roster's most promising complementary pieces, low-post dynamos Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, are both under the age of 25. The future was bright in Oklahoma City...but there are few things brighter than California sunshine.

In choosing Golden State, Durant opted to join a team that, despite finishing with the best record in NBA history last season (73-9), is not a dramatic upgrade from his previous squad. After all, the Thunder slapped the Warriors by 28 and 24 points, respectively, in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference finals. Durant altered the landscape of the West for the foreseeable future by crippling Golden State's most worrisome foe. If Washington had crossed the Delaware to inform the British he looked better in red, the damage to the patriots' cause would have outweighed anything he might have contributed to the crown.

Now Durant will play alongside the league's two most prolific 3-point shooters, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (aka, the Splash Brothers). He will get more open looks at the bucket from 23 feet and beyond than he did for OKC, but he has also forfeited the opportunity to be cherished by an entire state. And, fairly or not, he has already invited scorn from ringless Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller while also inducing sports columnist Rick Reilly to compare the newfangled Warriors to a triple-breasted Kate Upton. The Cavs added Kevin Love in 2014 to help them win a championship for Cleveland; the Warriors just added Kevin Hate.

Durant is no villain, and all professional athletes must be mercenaries to a certain degree. It's just that the most inspiring sports stories involve overcoming obstacles, and Durant just chose the surer thing. There's more jewelry in that, but less glory.

Postscript: Walter Gibson chose to forgo his dalliance with the sun-tanned goddess in favor of a more meaningful relationship with a complicated classmate. In 1985, that was the audience-pleasing decision. It should be noted, however, that the actor who portrayed him, Chicago born and bred Cusack, lives in a beach house in Malibu.