Kevin Durant is back at it: Making headlines for speaking not so kindly about other NBA players and the capital M Media. This week, the target of his criticism was LeBron James and the “fanboys” (reporters) who cover him. The quotes came from a Bleacher Report article by Ric Bucher, in which Bucher explored what he sees as a trend of players not wanting to join a team with LeBron on it. A fair amount of players went on the record both supporting and debunking Bucher’s theory, but it’s what Durant said that has really greased the wheels of the news cycle.
This is because Durant, per usual, said more than most athletes. He leveled a charge at LeBron, saying that young players on the superstar’s team end up changing their style of play to be on the same court. But it’s not what Durant said about the actual basketball that’s got so many people talking. It’s what he said about the environment surrounding LeBron.
"So much hype comes from being around LeBron from other people,” Durant said. “He has so many fanboys in the media. Even the beat writers just fawn over him. I'm like, we're playing basketball here, and it's not even about basketball at certain points. So I get why anyone wouldn't want to be in that environment because it's toxic. Especially when the attention is bullshit attention, fluff. It's not LeBron's fault at all; it's just the fact you have so many groupies in the media that love to hang on every word. Just get out of the way and let us play basketball."
LeBron declined to comment on Durant’s statements, saying that he didn’t have the necessary context, so he wouldn’t chime in because “That would be stupid on my part. I'm a veteran.”
Look: I like that Durant said what he really thinks. Last week I wrote a defense of Baker Mayfield, arguing that athletes who give opinions the media or public don’t agree with are trashed, while those who evade questions with PR word salad are held up as boring. It’s often a lose-lose. Durant is just speaking what he thinks is the truth. You don’t have to agree with him.
It’s also worth noting that Durant wasn’t necessarily wrong. LeBron does have a lot of people in the media who don’t really question him (Durant isn’t totally right about coverage, of course. Bucher’s article itself was somewhat critical). While this could partly be because there’s not much to question—he’s a great basketball player!—there’s also not really any point in a beat writer trying to get some information from LeBron that he hasn’t given to a media member with whom he has a longstanding, trusted relationship.
LeBron is so larger than life that he wouldn’t ever have to give a quote again and he’d still dominate the news. He is the news at this point. Literally. He his own media company called Uninterrupted, where he’s never interrupted when he chooses to tell his own story and those of other athletes.
Quotes like the ones Durant gave this week, on the other hand, feed the narrative that Durant needs enemies to flourish. Whether it’s his own teammates, random people on twitter, or his former teammates, he makes the most headlines when he fires shots out from his corner of the Internet or press conference. I find it endlessly entertaining. And at the end of the day, kind of refreshing? If you don’t want to know what athletes honestly believe about a situation, or at least what they want you to believe they believe, don’t ask them.
But I think this took off so much because what Durant said did read as, well, a little sad and a lot jealous. He was so fervent about not liking fanboys that it seemed as though he wanted some. A classic, “That girl gets all the guys. I don’t even want guys. Guys are the worst. Stay away from me, guys!” Maybe if Durant felt that he had fanboys, if he projected more charisma, he wouldn’t mind others' “groupies” so much. But there are very few people in the media, or in fanbases, who feel the same way about Durant as they do about LeBron.
Durant is...well, I was going to say he’s a pro at petty, seeing as he’s famously created burner accounts to clap back at people online with, like, 30 followers who say he shouldn’t have joined the Warriors. The problem is, he’s not a pro: he messed up when using Twitter and gave himself away. But even if he’s not always very good at the execution, his petty impulses are very strong. Take his best friendship with Russell Westbrook: they famously had the falling out of the century when Durant left Oklahoma City. I don’t know if Durant loves drama, but he’s certainly involved often enough and starts it often enough that you have to think he probably finds some pleasure in doing so. Even with his own teammates—remember when Draymond Green called him a b---h a few weeks ago? This guy can’t seem to escape the constant, incredibly compelling stream of beef in the NBA. And he doesn’t seem to want to.
NBA players as a whole are more likely to give the world juicy quotes than athletes in other leagues—it’s a league where guys have, more and more, embraced the beauty of pettiness. Many use the media and their own social media to fight their battles for them, and sports media thrives on this. Durant rails against the media and, in the process, feeds us. It’s very meta and not the worst idea really in terms of getting coverage. But it’s a tactic that many athletes try to avoid these days, because of what follows: articles like this one.