Kevin Durant had every excuse to act in a manner similar to this summer's star free agents. He is only 21 years old. He was raised in a me-first, reality TV culture. He exploded on the scene last season and instantly became one of the top five players in the league. He, too, will one day become a global icon.
But Durant did not spend the season speaking with a forked tongue, saying on the one hand he wanted to stay with Oklahoma City, but on the other he loved his hometown of Washington, D.C., or where he played college ball in Texas, or wherever. No, from the outset, Durant said one thing and he said it consistently: I want to remain with the Thunder. I love these guys. I want to win with these guys.
And when July 1 came, the first day he became eligible to sign an extension, Durant sat down with Thunder general manager Sam Presti. He listened to Presti's pitch, came to his decision to accept a five-year deal worth nearly $86 million and announced it quietly and excitedly on Twitter.
"We decided to handle it low-key," said Durant's agent, Aaron Goodwin. "Kevin does a good job of communicating with his fans through his Twitter account, so we thought that was an appropriate thing to do."
Now, to be fair, Durant was not in the same situation as LeBron James, DwyaneWade and Chris Bosh. Without the extension, Durant would have been a restricted free agent in the summer of 2011, meaning the Thunder could match any offer he would have received from rival teams. He did not have an opportunity to tour America in search of his next destination, or sit on his throne and have the minions come bow at his feet.
At the same time, Durant could have made a spectacle of himself like the others. He could have made public threats that demanded the Thunder pay him or he would look elsewhere. He could have groaned about the infusion of talent he'd like to see on the roster that would make him a winner for years to come.
Refreshingly, Durant did none of those. He trusted Presti. He trusted the Thunder. He trusted his teammates. And he displayed the values that have gotten him to this point.
"I think at some point some of what is going on right now is overkill," Goodwin said. "It could be ultimately detrimental to all that has been built up over the years."
Goodwin, who used to represent LeBron, didn't say specifically who he was talking about, but it was obvious James' nationally televised "Decision" to join Bosh and Wade in Miami didn't sit well with him, just as it didn't with many across the country.
The irony of the way in which the Big Three approached and undertook free agency is that the engine never really needed to be coaxed along by them at all. They wanted to get paid. Teams began clearing cap space more than a year ago in anticipation of this week. All along they were going to get paid.
They wanted to win. So do Pat Riley and Donnie Walsh and Mikhail Prokorov. They would not be in their positions otherwise. And if Bosh's stay in Toronto is proof of anything, it's that having a superstar on the roster but not winning is an untenable combination for both sides.
That leaves the adulation, which can probably never be satiated. It's an uncontrollable fungus that feeds off others and builds on itself.
The only other global icon to whom these players like to be compared is Michael Jordan, the ultimate barometer. But he played in a different era, where social networking and camera phones were not prevalent, so the comparison is not complete. But Jordan had ego, to be sure. He still does. He never flaunted it in this unsavory fashion, though. Not while he was playing. He won, and the iconizing followed. He understood that success begat success.
Durant seems to recognize that and appreciate its value, at least for now, in the infancy of his career.
Preposterously, when this contract is over for Durant, he will be only 27 years old, having already earned close to $100 million. He'll be a year younger than Wade and one year older than Bosh. Durant will be in his prime.
Will we ever see Durant, on his way to global icon status, having the same sort of free agency as the Big Three did this year?
"If you mean will he become an unrestricted free agent, absolutely, he could do that," Goodwin said. "If you mean would he do it in such a public fashion -- absolutely not."