(Written during the hours leading up to KD's decision)
Time Out of Mind...the hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder...
The worst part of the sudden toppling of Golden State’s empire of jump-shooting joy which I’ve yet to see or hear mentioned anywhere: Not only are we highly unlikely to ever see the Hamptons Five on the court together at the same time – as teammates or opponents – but they weren’t able to be together in the same locker room one last time, to celebrate and commiserate all the life they went through together. Boogie compared the Finals to a horror movie – Get Out – who’s gonna die next? It was horripilating to behold. I’m glad Steph had the team over to his house after Game 6. It’s devastating to know Durant was not there. KD and Klay finished the year hospitalized, separated by three thousand miles of rolling waste. I’ll say this, presuming KD never plays for the Warriors again, and returns the season after next to the bougie Frisco Chase Center in some other colored jersey, he had better receive the most rousing ovation in recent NBA memory. If those rich social media parasites have the audacity to boo Kevin Durant like the lowlifes of OKC – though I’ll remain forever faithful to Steph, Klay, Dray and whoever else they put out there – I will never again refer to myself as a Warriors fan.
Already, far as the franchise goes, to hell with them. I’m a fan of the human beings who play the most artistic, democratic game in sports with skill-sets as eloquent as the John Coltrane Quintet, and always have... and never have I given two shits about the billionaire that owns said assets, nor the franchise brand. I type in an old blue & orange Thunder jersey, #35, in solidarity with the man, irrespective of his current employer, with a distinct undercurrent of healthy human disrespect for the alleged golden boys of NBA owners, hellbent as they were on abandoning Oakland.
Desperate to save face, convinced Durant was out the door, the Warriors got greedy, annihilating themselves on the altar of achievement, legacy, the illusion that taking only two of three titles with KD, three of five overall, represents some kind of failure.
They didn’t need to play KD in Game 5, let alone play him as if he’d never gotten injured in the first place. No time this century can I remember a player returning from an injury major enough to keep him out significant time, without any kind of minutes’ restriction. Never seen a player come back to the bench after a such a return, from any type of leg injury, and apply ice, as opposed to keeping said limb warmly loose on an exercise bike. I think of Steve Nash and Larry Bird nursing their bad backs in modified cobra poses on the floor. KD coming out of the game, literally icing his Achilles tendon, sitting there with whatever swelling required ice un-elevated; and then returning to rupture it in one fell swoop of fateful hoop. In my last article, I envisioned KD being allowed by the medical staff to wave a towel from the bench, and possibly getting enough minutes to make a few jumpers in Game 6, were the Warriors to make it that far.
We all know what happened. As it played out, the Dubs needed every one of the eleven points of instant, fluid, gorgeous jump-shooting offense KD provided to extend the series, and make way for one last game at Oracle. I realize shoulda/woulda/coulda statements uttered in hindsight are especially noxious.
I don’t see why I should even care /It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.
KD never should have been out there for Game 5, which the Warriors had no business winning. Game 6 never should have happened. Klay and Kevin should have entered their “contract” years the healthy 30 year-olds they were just a couple weeks ago. I know, it’s sports and guys get hurt. I understand they’ll still sign max deals. Mountains of money do not soothe the spirit and the spirit suffers when the body is unable to do what its soul loves most. Far as the Warriors’ culpability goes, I’ll let Iggy speak for me. The statements he’s made whilst promoting his basketball memoir shatter beyond any shadow of a doubt that the Golden State Warriors are any better than the other cutthroat subsidiary franchises that make up the larger corporation known as the National Basketball Association.
Whatever else one may say or think, these were the most poignantly poetic playoffs in league history. Kawhi, universally maligned and misunderstood a year ago – how dare he question the wisdom of the San Antonio Spurs and their allegedly unimpeachable reputation as a “first class” organization. How dare he listen to his own body over the voices of team doctors? His season ended two years ago atop Zaza’s felonious foot, only managing to enter nine games the next year, and then punctuating 47 years of Warriors basketball with a muscle-bound exclamation of redemption.
KD, killed in the press with every misinterpreted statement; accused of being too sensitive, when it was the whole hoops world that took his decision to come to the Bay so fucking personally. Who’s sensitive? Kawhi, mocked for his silence. The illusion that the NBA is set apart in its woke-ness from the rest of the toxic sea of patriarchal machismo the culture at large has been drowning in for so long – dead – the narrative demanded KD prove, once and for all, that he was A MAN, and not a cupcake – I would have played, any of us would have. It’s ok, he’ll be fine, even if he’s never again the same player who crushed the Clippers and was crashing the Rockets. He posted after Game 5 that his soul was hurting, but that his spirits were lifted, “like from a shot of tequila,” by the efforts of his teammates, their victory.
What I’ll never understand: the inability of fans to perceive their sports heroes and villains as human beings. The dehumanization is justified by a bevy of irrelevant facts – their financial wealth, privileged lifestyles, worldwide fame, as if any of it makes them immune from the pains and pangs which plague all human hearts. The same can be said for certain entertainers who reign the roost in other realms.
Kevin Durant, since he had the gall to join the Warriors, has been Bob Dylan, decried by his most ardent fans as Judas, the most loathed man in human history, because he chose to pick up an electric guitar. It couldn’t have gone another way, Durant’s Dostoyevskian saga... Thank you, Jeff Van Gundy, for saying what nobody wanted to hear. After Mark Jackson spit out some cliché about Durant’s heart, grit, determination, etc., which he (Durant) had allegedly demonstrated by getting himself on the floor for Game 5, Van Gundy demurred, objecting to the statement, accurately noting that its tacit inference was that had Durant not played, opposite conclusions w/r/t his character could have been justifiably drawn. In his monotone, deadpan, sedated, somewhat slovenly manner, Van Gundy said it all – one last time, JVG grabbed onto Zo Mourning’s mighty leg-limb, held on for as long as he could – but it was soulless still, this clinical bit of truth meekly offered to judge and jury, uttered by a public defender long since stripped of whatever charisma he may have once possessed. Van Gundy reminded me of the competent, overmatched actor Joshua Jackson playing competent, overmatched defense attorney for one of the (eventually) Exonerated Five from Ana DuVernay’s latest soul-shattering masterpiece of previously untold history, When They See Us, ill-equipped to say it as I would have loved to hear Kendrick Perkins proclaim it – KD had nothing to prove. He’d proved it all by his fifth or sixth year in Oklahoma. He’d proved it in absolute terms. Perhaps not quite LeBron for lack of physicality, perhaps not quite Bird in terms of coldblooded, unshakable confidence, but name me one other small forward in the history of motherfucking basketball better than Kevin Durant. A player with no demerits. A seven-footer with Steph Curry’s skill-set. Who plays the right way. Classic gym-rat, gym-giraffe is more apt. Nothing rat-like about majestic KD. Gym-gazelle. Kevin Durant, skinny Ganesha of the gym, who overcomes any and all defensive obstacles. Easy Money Sniper, master craftsman. Neither Judas nor Jesus. A man – one of the few worthy of the overused moniker – who has put in his ten thousand hours and more.
It should of course come as no surprise that an athlete like Durant’s manhood would continually come into question, that his narrative options would be limited to the classic false binary the good old USA assigns the Blackman: superman/subhuman, never just a dude. It’s why we can never seem to get enough O.J., ultimate archetype that Buffalo Bill surely be. Shall we overcome, one day? I doubt it. Not with bank-maniacs in charge, former-and-once-again-forevermore human chattel filling up the for-profit prisons, migrants and refugees warehoused like war criminals, the first black president presented with a Nobel Peace Prize born of wishful thinking, only to govern like an eloquent autocrat thereafter, who’d treat the residents of Flint no better than his war criminal predecessor treated the residents of the Lower Fifth Ward; not with Assange and Manning locked away forever and Rumsfeld retired contentedly upon Mount Misery and Kyrie Irving being treated like he’s certifiable as Hannibal Lecter for allegedly having asked Brad Stevens how he’d define “government.” God forbid Kyrie have civics on his mind at seven in the morning with the Orlando Magic coming up. Imagine had Kyrie asked Stevens what he thought of Juneteenth or the FBI assassination of Fred Hampton! The intonations of Jackie McMullan and Ramona Shelburne on ESPN as they cited sources which told them Kyrie just “didn’t like living in Boston,” as if Bill Russell had ever lived within those city limits his entire run with the Celtics. I know Boston ain’t as bad as it used to be – but that a Blackman would dare not enjoy living in the most notoriously racist city north of the Mason Dixon line – Kyrie Irving, who identifies and embraces his ethnic maternal lineage as a member of the Sioux Nation, wasn’t so fond of Beantown and they inflect their astonishment in various shades of thinly veiled dismay. How dare he!
It reminds of the year Dennis Rodman, still a Piston, infamously claimed Larry Bird was overrated due to his whiteness – and Isiah Thomas, unable to keep a straight face, laughingly claimed to agree with his teammate, refusing to throw Rodman under the bus already buried in wrecked boxcars and then (Isiah), forced to throw a press conference to renounce his non-disavowal of Rodman’s comments, uttered in the throes of competition – it was treated with similar, if not more vehement pushback than Trump’s conferring of goodness onto the Tiki Torch tyrants of Charlottesville. Rodman and Isiah forced by the league, the media, the public at large, Bostonians in particular, to beg forgiveness for having sinned against the hope of the Great White Hope. How dare they! Larry Bird, by the way, didn’t give a flying fuck and looked embarrassed as hell as he appeared along Isiah at the press conference to confirm as much. Good for Larry, for never having bought into one iota of the bullshit nonsense that swirled around his goofy curly blond locks.
Kawhi, KD, Kyrie... a triumvirate of K’s that harken back to the Harlem Renaissance, the Roaring 20s and that entire age of grift and graft, when Europe was doing its best prophetic impersonation of the Nazis all over Asia and Africa. Lebron’s infamous Decision kicked off an era of the New Negro within the NBA and the chief protagonists of this Harlem Hoops Renaissance looks like they’re headed that way, literarily and literally alike... I have a feeling Booker T. Washington, D.E.B. DuBois and Minister Malcolm would agree, KD and Kyrie should take their talents to Gotham to paint basketball masterpieces in the belly of the beast, Rome before it completely crumbles. Before KD’s Homeric odyssey went Iliad on him, I’d thought him joining Kyrie was the worst thing he could do. Now I believe, if there’s any truth to the rumors of their tight heart-connection, I think he should accompany his buddy to whichever NY depot they can agree upon, in order to have his Irving’s back as he heals his heel.
Do yourself a favor and listen to entirety of Iggy’s interview on The Breakfast Club. It’s not just that he tells us he had a fracture the Warriors’ brass insisted was merely a “bone bruise” during last season’s playoff run – he retells, as few have, the story behind Allen Iverson’s infamous Practice Rant, and generally conducts himself like the James Baldwin of the NBA players association, calmly, eloquently defending the simple sentiment stated on signs of olden times, I AM A MAN, expressed in modern times as Black Lives Matter. Iggy contextualizes Iverson’s practice rant – Iverson’s best friend from childhood had just died, as the press knew, and Iverson, distraught, forced to answer redundant questions about demerits accumulated in practice. The lines always omitted from every clip, “My best friend just DIED, and y’all talkin’ ‘bout practice?!?!” What Iverson was really saying, “Ain’t I a man? Don’t y’all see me as human?” This season, one of Durant’s adopted brothers, a teammate on his high school team, Cliff Dixon, was killed during a birthday celebration. Nobody gave a fuck. Nipsey Hussle was also murdered and the media made it seem it was okay, because Westbrook compiled that 20-20-20 triple-double. Blaze Foley sure was right, it’s a cold, cold world. Having boatloads in the bank don’t cease the pain of being a man. But last year, after the death of Greg Popovich’s wife, watch Durant’s reaction. Last year, one of David West’s best friends, former NBA player Rasual Butler, died. The fans and media lose their minds every time a player commits the slightest faux-pas on social media – we will never hear the end of KD’s burner accounts, while Cliff Dixon goes forevermore unmentioned.
But the fanatics are just that. Media members fan the flames of dehumanization. What if Kyle Lowery entered Mark Stevens’ place of business, or saw him on the street, and shoved the heel of his hand into the billionaire’s shoulder? What if Kawhi had reportedly done so to a member of the Spurs’ medical staff? And he may well have had good reason! What’d happen? They’d be arrested for assault. No matter how innocuous such hypothetical blows may have been, they’d get the book thrown at them. What happens to Stevens? He has to miss a few games; issued a fine that for him, is equivalent to less than twenty bucks to folks like you and me. Imagine Westbrook had laid hands on that Utah fan who famously taunted him? That fan was banned for life, for words. Stevens put hands on the Raptors all-star point guard... for absolutely no reason other than some infantile sense of macho fandom infused with Trump era narcissism. Lowery, who’d later lead the quelling of Canadian jeers aimed at waylaid KD, handled the incident with Selma-like grace. He’d have been within his rights to have gone full-bore Huey Newton. Stevens should be made to stand at half-court before tipoff before the first regular season game at the Devil Chase Center, and receive a decleeting bitch-slap delivered by Draymond. Stevens should thereafter be tarred and feathered, dragged through West Oakland, dipped in cannabinoid oil, rolled into a giant blunt to be smoked by Nick Young, shirtless, in Jack London Square, theretofore renamed Bobby Seal Square... Seriously, by NBA ordinance and California State Law, Stevens is a criminal – if not only for his cowardly shove, but likely apropos application of Puzo’s classic godfatherly phrase: behind every great fortune there is a crime.
Cue Camper Van Beethoven... I bet Stevens wouldn’t shove the songwriter David Lowery, were he to stumble into the crowd at the Warfield or Fillmore.
America’s ship of state is a shameful shambles from bow to stern, NBA Inc. included – but the stars, superstars, and role-playing rank and file proletariat – have held onto their dignity. From Lowery, Gasol, et al, hushing the Raptor fans’ ravenous jeers of martyred KD, to Lowery’s restraint in the face of Stevens’ unprovoked aggression, to Steph and Iggy’s accompaniment of #35 off the court in his final appearance in Warriors’ royal and yellow, to Steph’s ineradicable equanimity, to Iggy’s resolute composure and staunch-having-of-his-teammates’-backs, unwavering honesty and eloquence, to KD’s self-effacing confession of soul-pain, to Boogie’s harsh “fuck ‘em, they’re trash,” directed at uncountable idiots all too eager to detract from every success, and revel in every calamity to befall the great KD, to Kawhi and KD’s mutual refusals to be anyone other than themselves, the NBA players, have never looked better.
And, aside from Kerr’s recklessness with Durant’s minutes, enough to once and for all eliminate him from previous considerations of sainthood, I’ve never witnessed a more exquisitely coached Finals. Nick Nurse, bless his spectacles, with the balls to run a box-and-one, a triangle-and-two. Kerr going zone, echoes of bellows from my own high school coach, recently gone to the great hardwood beyond, and his (Tom Blackwood’s) unhealthy attachment to the very same two-three matchup zone Arizona coach Lute Olson ran when Steve Kerr was a player there – I’m sure Andre Iguodala learned it much the same way Kerr and I did. A real father-son, Cat Stevens - Ivan Turgenev vibe pervaded. There was the moment Klay told his dad he heard no pop (probably lying); Siakam playing for his deceased dad; aforementioned Lute Olson and the fatherly role he undoubtedly played in young Steve Kerr’s life (Kerr’s own father dying his freshman year in at U of A, the ASU fans serenading him with sinister chants of “YOUR DAD’S DEAD” – Tom Blackwood, Lute Olson and my own father all looking on concernedly from on high); VanVleet unable to miss a shot upon the birth of his son, Fred VanVleet Jr.; and of course, the omnipotence of NBA First Father Dell Curry. Kawhi’s rejection of Coach Pop as a father figure and turning to Uncle Dennis; KD’s lack of an Uncle Dennis, or some analogous cornerman who might have saved him from himself, who might have been able to talk him out of risking all to show the whole goddamn world once and for all, that he’s a man and not some bonne bouche served up at children’s birthday parties.
It ain’t just me, basketball people tend toward oddly existentially oriented incarnations within the jock archetype. Before Game 6, those with any hearts and minds whatsoever, still in shock over Durant’s downfall and Bob Myers melodramatic performance – the saddest and strangest NBA presser since Magic announced his retirement – Isiah Thomas was on TV quoting Kant w/r/t age-old questions of means and ends.
It’s taken me a full two weeks to recover, not from the loss, about which I couldn’t give a fart, but from watching two of the game’s most beautiful craftsmen go down with career-altering injuries. And nobody but their families, teammates and opponents seeming to care. That’s my take-away. NBA players are not perceived by the media circus, fanbases, or team owners as actual human personages. No, it’s not as bad as the dehumanization of refugees and migrants, or of those locked forever away in Guantanamo Bay, or the Iranians suffering under sanctions and the horror of knowing they’ve long been scheduled to get bombed to hell. No, the dehumanization of professional athletes does not compare to what’s been done to Chelsea Manning or Julian Assange, but the same dynamics are at play. The humanity of Kevin Durant, Kevon Looney, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala – despite all eyes on their injured assets and what effects those defects may have on eventual outcomes – went absolutely unseen.
The ultimate paradox dating back to antebellum days – African Americans placed front and center upon the auction block, sports field, boxing ring, television screen – their humanity doomed to remain unseen. Ralph Ellison said it all back in 1952. When Myers got up there with unwetted tears and told the world that Durant was misunderstood, and a good person, it made me think of DuBois’ famous passage from Souls of Black Folk, penned in 116 years earlier:
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
There’s always been an unfair two-ness differentiating Durant from his Golden State teammates. Bob Myers couldn’t help himself from ribbing KD about it at last year’s parade, which I admittedly cannot forgive, and which I believe was the formal beginning to the end of whatever good karma the organization surely inherited via the good deeds of Al Attles, Manute Bol, Adonal Foyle, and to be fair, Bob Myers himself.
The ethics of competition is tricky. At lower levels, winning at all costs is mostly frowned upon. At the heights of a multibillion dollar industry, it’s expected. We don’t exactly expect Steve Kerr to treat Kevin Durant as if he were one of our sons on the high school team; but part of the reason we love Kerr is because he and the Warriors have promoted the impression that he does in fact care about his players as people, not pawns in a power struggle to maintain a stranglehold over NBA supremacy.
Like all Warrior faithful born before the 90s, I was satisfied with the Warriors being a playoff team, and an extremely entertaining one at that. Though their achievements pale in comparison, I have no less love for the Sleepy Floyd, RUN TMC or We Believe teams than I do for the Splash Brothers/ Hamptons Five lineups that’ve brought home so many banners. The dynasty is dead; and I’m happier for it. Winning a championship should be an accomplishment laced with unadulterated joyousness, not simply the sense of relief associated with having met expectations.
I hope Steph and Klay and Dray can win another title before they retire. I hope KD regains as much of his health as humanly possible and is able to win again, wherever he goes – but it doesn’t matter. The ethos and pathos of Pat Riley and Michael Jordan, for whom losing is misery and winning is mere relief, was never healthy and it’s high time it’s abandoned.
To the Warriors of the future and athletes the world over, I say: Be on Time; Try Your Best... and fuck the rest.
Far as KD’s future goes, if I were his Uncle Dennis, the advice he’d get from me: team up with Kyrie, Bed-Stuy, Do or Die. Selah.