NWO Comparisons Aside, Kevin Durant Is No Wrestling-Style Villain

The Week in Wrestling: KD’s appreciation for the top wrestling faction of his childhood, WWE’s bold and innovative venue choice and more.
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Is Kevin Durant the leader of the NBA version of the NWO?

Last week, the NWO celebrated its 25-year anniversary.

It has been two and a half decades since Scott Hall and Kevin Nash unveiled Hulk Hogan as their mystery third man, and the group has influenced the way pro wrestling currently operates. The NWO also infiltrated pop culture, including seizing the attention of NBA star Kevin Durant.

“I definitely appreciate the group and what they brought to the entertainment space,” Durant says. “I was a huge fan as a kid.”

Durant was announced Wednesday as one of the cover stars for the NBA 75th Anniversary Edition of NBA 2K22. He is coming off another phenomenal season, although he was unable to win his third championship. Like the NWO, the Nets are a superteam led by three megastars in Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, though losing Irving in the playoffs due to an ankle injury severely hurt the team’s ability to advance.

Considering the role superteams play as the top villains in basketball, does Durant ever feel as though he is leading the NWO of the NBA?

“I don’t,” he says. “It kind of looks that way, right? Our team wears all black and we kind of got three guys on the team that a lot of fans in the NBA don’t really like as much. It can seem that way, but I don’t think we take on that mentality. I think we come in and operate at a pretty smooth, easy, reserved level. We’re just very high-skilled guys, but I guess [from] the outside perception, it can seem that way. But for us, we just really enjoy to play every day.”

Still, Eric Bischoff, the former WCW president who orchestrated the NWO story line, would be honored to make Durant the newest member of the iconic group.

“Kevin Durant would be welcomed with open arms, by not only myself, the architect of the NWO, but also Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash,” Bischoff says. “We would love to have Kevin Durant be a lifetime member of the NWO.”

Durant, who is playing basketball for Team USA this summer in the Olympics, has also made it a priority to help elevate women’s sports. He is an investor in Just Women’s Sports.

“The attention around women’s sports definitely needs to grow,” Durant says. “I think Just Women’s Sports have done a great job of telling unique stories specifically to these athletes around different sports. To be aligned with that, I thought it was perfect for us, and we look forward to helping them grow and helping continue to push that message.”

The Just Women’s Sports podcast, hosted by two-time World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Kelley O’Hara, had a phenomenal interview with WWE’s Sasha Banks last month.

“Women’s sports, I always felt, was putting a good product out on the floor, but a lot of people weren’t recognizing it,” Durant says. “With the social media boom, you get a deeper insight into the athletes and you get to see how hard they work and how tough it is to play their sport. So, I think more people start to relate to these athletes, which brings more eyes and I think it’s growing exponentially.

“As a professional athlete, it’s always important to support and to bring awareness to these athletes and what they do on and off the floor, so I only see it getting better from here.”

The (online) week in wrestling

  • Bayley’s injury is such a devastating blow to WWE. While she recovers, she would be a tremendous addition to the broadcast on commentary for either Raw or SmackDown. 
  • From main-eventing the first night of WrestleMania 37 to winning an award at ESPN’s ESPYs award show, it has been an incredible year so far for Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair. 
  • Tegan Nox and Shotzi Blackheart were both called up to SmackDown on Friday, which is a prime example of WWE—particularly Vince McMahon—pulling talent from NXT on the fly. Nox had just returned to NXT from injury four days prior, and Blackheart was a key piece of NXT programming. Despite the sudden change, they are both extremely talented and hopefully succeed on SmackDown. 
  • For the women’s Money in the Bank match, I hope we see WWE rebuild Naomi into a top-tier part of the title picture. My choice for the Money in the Bank men’s winner: Have Big E win the briefcase, return to Raw to dethrone WWE champion Bobby Lashley and avenge Sunday’s (likely) defeat of Kofi Kingston, and reunite The New Day. 
  • Is Samoa Joe being set up to dethrone Karrion Kross as NXT champion? 
  • Edge getting some help from Rey Mysterio was a great callback from their shared history. They were WWE tag champs together in 2002. 
  • Kenny Omega and Hangman Page … now there’s a main-event matchup. 
  • Tommy End’s AEW debut was spectacular. Formerly known in WWE as Aleister Black, he is now Malakai Black in AEW. Now comes the next step: In order to keep his momentum, he needs to defeat Cody Rhodes at All Out in September. 
  • Andrade’s first match in AEW was tremendous. Matt Sydal was a perfect first opponent, and this is the type of dominant performance that will allow Andrade to stand out on such a talented roster. And maybe, at least for the near future, this is the best use of him—just have him lay out opponents and keep building momentum. 
  • The Young Bucks are sensational, but I hope that we eventually see Eddie Kingston and Penta have a run together as AEW tag champs. 
  • Tetsuya Naito and Sanada defeated Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi at Saturday’s Summer Struggle show to become New Japan IWGP tag champs. Naito is simply incredible in the ring. If New Japan could ever bring in Naito, he would be a massive star for the company. 

Konnan unveiled a new LAX over the weekend at the MLW show, with Danny Limelight and Slice Boogie now playing prominent roles in a group that has a history of making stars.

  • Ring of Honor put on a very good pay-per-view Sunday, highlighted by Bandido defeating Rush to become the new ROH champion. 
  • RIP to the great “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. 
  • With live crowds returning to WWE, how soon will it be until we see Brock Lesnar again?

WWE showing a creativity necessary for the product in upcoming trip to Rolling Loud Miami music festival

Unpredictability. Excitement. Anticipation. Not one of those features was regularly on display in the pandemic era during shows at the WWE Performance Center.

But SmackDown is headed to the Rolling Loud Miami music festival for a split show on July 23, which is massive news for WWE. The majority of the show will air from the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, but it will also feature two matches from the music festival at Hard Rock Stadium in South Florida.

This is bigger than simply one episode of television. It is an innovative approach that WWE needs to bring relevancy back to its weekly television programming, and connects to the company’s streaming deal with NBCUniversal that brought WWE content to the Peacock streaming service.

A priority for WWE in the Peacock deal is to speak to a considerably wider audience than the one it attracted with the old WWE Network. Getting in front of new audiences is a major goal, and that is where WWE president Nick Khan enters the equation.

Khan is seeking opportunities to capitalize and grow the brand, which is why he hired former CAA agents Scott Zanghellini and Alex Varga to lead WWE’s revenue strategy group. Their job is to look at the landscape in which WWE operates and find new areas to monetize. Airing parts of SmackDown live from a music festival fits into that mission, as that is a way to surprise and delight viewers, ones that watch weekly as well as newer and lapsed fans. It’s an opportunity to freshen up the product in pursuit of new sources of revenue.

Television ratings may not be the end-all, be-all for a wrestling promotion, but they do serve as an important gauge of what is and is not working, as well as a snapshot of the overall popularity of the product. WWE is in a peculiar spot, posting record-high profits yet delivering television, particularly each Monday on Raw, that has not met its goal of consistently capturing its audience’s attention.

Bringing SmackDown to a music festival is something of a risk for the company. Taking chances was once what defined Vince McMahon’s business approach, though that now rarely takes place, especially as viewers are treated to repeated matches and story lines. Changes are needed, both in terms of story lines and overall approach, and this is where Khan’s influence can make a difference. The new WWE president has succeeded in his past by being a sports and entertainment visionary. That is currently missing in WWE, at least by someone who has McMahon’s ear. That is a very important element. While Khan and his team bring new ideas and a solid track record, McMahon remains WWE’S decision-maker.

This all makes the Rolling Loud segments of SmackDown even more intriguing. How will the team in Cleveland toss to that part of the show? Which stars will be utilized on those segments? Depending on how it plays out, it offers a glimpse at how WWE could structure its live-event touring business in the future.

Tweet of the Week

Bayley helped carry the WWE product during the pandemic era. Here’s to as quick and safe a recovery as possible.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.