A father videotaped his young son crying and passed it along to Kevin Durant via social media with a message: Thanks for ruining my son’s day.
Grown men burned Durant jerseys in fits of anger, a reaction that looks even sillier given the somber events taking place in our country at present.
Websites compared Durant to Benedict Arnold.
Why? Because he changed NBA jobs. He exercised his contractual right as a free agent and left Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors.
Truthfully, the visceral reaction to Durant’s departure had more to do with his destination than his leaving his only NBA franchise.
Durant played the ultimate if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em card by going to the 73-win Warriors. A superstar joining a cast of superstars doesn’t make a warm-and-fuzzy narrative.
Durant branded himself a front-runner and ring chaser with his jump-ship decision that made LeBron James’ regrettable “taking my talents to South Beach” exit look tame by comparison.
“There’s no shortcuts,” Durant told reporters at his introductory press conference, adding that he took the “hardest road.”
(Quick pause here so everyone can finish laughing and rolling their eyes at the absurdity of that notion.)
A perceived shredding of loyalty being displayed in NBA free agency should come as no surprise, though.
As fans, we tend to romanticize professional athletes who spend their entire careers in one place — well, except for Joe Mauer — because that vision is shaped by examples of previous generations.
Bird, Magic, Jeter, Kobe, Elway … they became faces of their franchises, symbols of their cities.
The satisfaction gained from staying in one place and winning a title becomes eternal and creates a bond between city and athlete that’s almost mythical in nature.
Times have changed. Athletes have changed. Perceptions about loyalty have changed.
So much emphasis is placed on winning championships that athletes seem more willing to chase a ring now, even, ironically, at the expense of harming their own legacy by stacking the deck.
How often do we hear that so-and-so was a great player, maybe even a Hall of Famer, but he never won a championship? Athletes fear that scarlet letter.
How often do we hear athletes at the top of their sport say they’ve accomplished everything in the game except win a ring? So that becomes their singular pursuit.
In an idyllic view, athletes would continue to push and fight a bitter rival until they finally conquer their nemesis. But pure hatred of rivals doesn’t exist anymore, at least not to the degree that it once did.
Athletes spend offseasons together. Train together. Vacation together. Share agents.
Those relationships make it easier to join forces if/when opportunities arise. Social media has helped strip away peer disconnect.
In 1985, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson shot a Converse commercial together — reluctantly initially — that basically served as de facto peace talks between warring rivals.
Relationships between athletes are just different now.
This subject came up during a recent conversation I had with Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr., a future Hall of Famer from Minneapolis.
Fitzgerald is ultracompetitive and fiercely determined to win a championship for the Cardinals, his lone employer for 13 NFL seasons. He’s also incredibly popular within the NFL.
Fitzgerald explained how he strikes a balance between his desire to win and maintaining a wide cast of friends around the league.
“Adrian [Peterson] is like my brother,” he said. “I love Adrian. I want to see him do well every single day. But I want to whip his butt, too. When we play against him for 60 minutes, I want to take it to him. But after the game I will embrace him like my brother.”
The Warriors made their pitch for Durant by sending Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to schmooze him — only a few weeks after Durant’s Thunder choked away a 3-1 series lead to the Warriors in a heated playoff series.
No, Durant did not pick the hardest road. And that shouldn’t be shocking, either.