Kevin Durant (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
The first time I saw Kevin Durant on a basketball court in person was really memorable. It was his first season in Brooklyn—the year he was injured—and when they called a timeout, Durant, in street clothes, walked out of the way of the guys in the uniforms. And the way he walked was so cool. His body just moved rhythmically and poetically as he walked across the court.
Then he got back in uniform, and seeing him in the black and white has been one of the great thrills of my sports fandom life. He is one of the greatest athletes I’ve ever had the privilege to watch up close and root for. It has been a joy to walk a few minutes to the Barclays and watch a once-in-a-generation athlete go to work. I loved the smooth, silky way he floated through the court, dribbling like a smaller man then rising up high over everyone to shoot that pretty jumper. If you have Durant on your team, no matter who the opponent is, you go into every game confident and you feel optimistic whenever he has the ball in his hands at the end of a game.
Rooting for Kyrie Irving has been a different story. He is extraordinary to watch play. He’s a magician with the rock—he’s definitely the child of the AND1 Mixtape stars—but sometimes he also recalls dancers who have such amazing control of their bodies that they can make it look like they’re falling and off balance but they’re not . Where Durant’s smoothness evoked John Coltrane’s majestic sound for me, to see Kyrie dribble and hesitate and drive and change direction and finish recalled the sound of Thelonious Monk, which was helter skelter and yet astounding. Watching Kyrie was not that far off from watching modern dance or ball at Rucker Park. But off the court, he was one of the most confounding and frustrating players New York City has ever seen. The man was the poster child for not getting the vaccine yet he never had a coherent argument for why not. He was moody and irascible, and it seems like he made both James Harden and Durant want to leave. What’s up with this guy?
I’m sad about Durant leaving Brooklyn, and it seems very possible that Kyrie could be leaving, too. But I’m not mad. I believe players should exercise whatever power they have to shape their careers. Most players aren’t powerful enough to demand trades and don’t have the whole league wanting their services, but a few are. I’m happy watching them use their power to control their destiny. At a deeper level, sports are a clash of classes where the ownership class and the player class are constantly at war over control of the game. The owners are wealthy, most are billionaires, and the players may be multimillionaires, but the vast majority of them come from the working class. They come from nothing and they’re often the first person in the history of their family to create generational wealth. And many of them lose a lot of their money after retirement. These are people whose lifetime earning power is at a maximum when they’re in their 20s or 30s and plummets after that.
To think of players and owners as being on the same class scale because they have more money than you is to miss the forest for the trees. The players have a lot of money but it’s new money. They’re 1 percenters. The owners have a ton of money. They’re .0001 percenters. So whenever players are powerful enough to control the shape of their own careers and dictate what the teams can do for them, I root for the players. To me, to do otherwise is to root for the owners.
I don’t believe players owe their careers to one team and I don’t give players credit for staying with one team for their whole career. It’s fine if that’s what you want and the owners are giving you everything you need but if you want to move and you have the power to make it happen, I support you. Everyone, all of us, should have the right to determine where we work or at least to choose a workplace that’s a good fit for us. Players are employees. Why shouldn’t they get a say in where they play if they have the power to make teams jump? We judge players based on championships so we can’t ask them to be pawns in the hands of the owner class and just play wherever they want them to play.
So I support Durant and Irving using their power to move on even though it hurts my team. I will miss Durant. He was cool. Would I miss Irving if he got traded? Not really. He was fun to watch, but he brings so much baggage—the flat earth stuff, the vaccine stuff, the making-stars-leave stuff—I’m exhausted. The amount of drama you bring can’t be more than the amount of joy.
Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.
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