The Lead in
When I was a freshman in college I played soccer for the Suffolk University men’s team. I was a goalkeeper, and somehow found my way into the starting lineup halfway through the season.
We were picked to finish 7th in our conference. Next thing I know, we’re playing for the conference title against one of the best D3 teams in the country. In my home state. 15 minutes from my hometown. In front of a 2,000 people. Friends. Family.
We won the title and I felt elated. I had won sports championships before, but this was different. I had beat the best competition that I had personally ever faced. I had never felt more like a champion.
So how does Kevin Durant fit into all of this? Stick with me, you’ll find out.
Two elite shooters, a podcast, and a twitter beef walk into a bar
Have you heard this one before? During an appearance on C.J. McCollum’s podcast, Kevin Durant and his host discussed the former MVP’s move to Golden State. In short, McCollum lightheartedly expressed his disdain for the move, and even more so the addition of DeMarcus Cousins.
KD fired back by saying that Portland doesn’t have a shot at the title anyways, inferring that even if the Trail Blazers landed Cousins in free agency, it wouldn’t have made a difference. Then this ensued.
Quick summary: C.J. McCollum called KD “soft” for joining a team who had A) just had the best regular season of all time and B) came back from a 1-3 deficit to beat Durant and his Thunder during the postseason. KD has historically taken offense to these barbs.
Is this the first time NBA players have expressed their feelings towards KD’s infamous free agency choice? No. I am positive players have talked privately about how Durant has made the league less competitive, or lowered a players’ chance of getting to the finals.
Nonetheless, Durant is a Finals MVP and two time world champion of the best professional basketball league in the world. Naturally, it is time for a specific question to unfold itself once again…
Are Kevin Durant’s titles worth less than other championships?
Principle 1 – the 100 yard dash
Imagine you are in high school again. You compete in the 100 yard sprint and have qualified for your State Finals. There you are, on the track and waiting for the gun to go off. You can win this thing.
And you do! Congratulations, you are the fastest sprinter in your state, a true champion of your event!
Now, imagine during that same summer, you are watching the Olympics. Usain Bolt is lining up to run the 100 yard dash. The gun goes off and he sprints. As majestic as he is powerful, Bolt wins the race and earns the title of fastest man in the world.
He is literally the best person in the world at running 100 yards.
Here we have it. Two champions. One champion won their State title race. The other won a World title race.
Imagine one more thing for me. You are at a restaurant. You tell a guy sitting next to you that you won your State title for the 100 yard dash. You look up and see Usain Bolt on TV, getting his gold medal for winning his respective 100 yard dash. You ask the guy sitting next to you: Who is the real 100 yard champion? Me, or Usain Bolt?
His response: Usain Bolt, of course. Now shut up and let me eat my chicken piccata.
What do we have? Two champions, but one champion. What? Let me rephrase it. Two champions of the same sport, but only one of them can call themselves the world’s best sprinter.
What’s my point? It’s simple.
Championships are weighted according to the talent in the tournament.
Principle 2 – Trivia night with The Office
Remember that episode on The Office where the gang goes out and crashes Oscar’s trivia night? For those who aren’t addicted to the show, here’s what happens.
The boss, Andy, is a thousand bucks or so short of hitting a company goal for the quarter. He decided to go to Oscar’s trivia night contest and see if he can win the money there. The whole office divides into teams, as to increase their odds of winning. There is a smart team, a backup smart team, and a team of dummies who simply want to drink and have fun. Long story short, the dummies end up winning trivia night!
So what the hell does this have to do with Kevin Durant, the Warriors, and winning NBA championships? I am glad you asked.
Oscar’s trivia league was socially reserved for the best and brightest. The league is a serious one, and at least a working knowledge of transcendentalist painters, French film noir, and the classic fideism versus hypercriticism debate, are all a must-have. In essence, the talent level in this league is elite.
Yet, the dummies were eligible to play. And they won. Now, pretend they were in a fictional, TV character trivia league. Our dummies from The Office play against Peter Griffin and his gang, Homer Simpson and his family, Will Smith and his Fresh Prince crew, and lastly, Walter White and the rest of the Breaking Bad cast.
But at the last second, right before trivia night starts, genius Walter White, child prodigy Lisa Simpson, and nerd Carlton Banks decide to join the dummies from The Office. Woah. That team just became stacked. The talent level in the trivia league didn’t change but, the talent dispersal did.
Before this change, there was no clear favorite to win the trivia night championship. Now, however, there is a sure favorite – the loaded Fresh Prince team. The league is still as talented as ever, but on the whole the teams are worse. Hmmm.
Back to Kevin Durant.
The year before KD went to Golden State, his Thunder met the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. They were up 3-1 in that series. They had the Warriors on the ropes during game 6 in Oklahoma, tied 101-101 with 2:00 minutes remaining. What happened? Klay Thompson had an historic shooting performance, going 11-18 from deep for the game while hitting 7 threes in the second half and 5 of them in the 4th quarter. It was a new postseason record for threes in a game.
In order to beat the Thunder, Klay Thompson had to literally rewrite the history books.
Fast forward a year. Durant is now on the Warriors. In fact, the Warriors start 4 All-stars, 3 total MVP awards, and by 2018 what will become 16 total All-NBA selections. They possess 2 of the top 3 shooters of all time, and one of the top 5 pure scorers of all time. In addition, the have a 6’5″ forward with a legitimate shot as going down as the best defender ever. Oh, and their bench is stacked, including a coach who played with Jordan, and 2x MVP Steve Nash doing consulting work for them.
Without question, the Warriors from 2016-now are the most talented team to ever exist. And I didn’t even mention Boogie…
Yet, the NBA has more talent within its league than ever. So, if Durant wins a title today, doesn’t it abide by principle 1 and actually help Durant’s legacy?
Let’s check back in and see how our TV character trivia night is going. The intellectually dominant Fresh Prince crew is winning by a ton. In fact, it looks like they just won the tite. Wow. Congrats. Yet, they do not look ecstatic. Happy, but not the sense of blissful, everything-is-perfect, pure joy that comes usually comes with winning a ‘ship. The losers aren’t too down either. In fact, they’re more mad, if anything. Not mad that they lost, but mad that they never had a chance. Mad that there was no competition.
Despite a league with high-end talent, Walter White, Lisa Simpson, Carlton Banks and co. didn’t beat the best. They were the best. How can the best beat the best when they are the best? Confusing, but not not so confusing, if you know what I mean.
Okay Espo, what’s the principle here?
There is a difference between the talent you compete against, and the talent in the league. If the best talent in the league is on your team, then who are you truly competing against? This principle sounds very close to principle 1, but they are as important as they are different.
Championships are weighted according to the talent you directly compete against.
Principle 3 – Curt Schilling and the ’04 Sox
Before he became an extreme right TV personality, Curt Schilling was a member of the drought-ending 2004 Boston Red Sox. He coined the team’s phrase, “Why not us.” Now allow me to explain why their series win over the Yankees (not even a title-winning series, but the ALCS) is the one of the greatest moments in sports history.
The season before, the Red Sox had a chance of going to the World Series and therefore ending a title drought that spanned over 8 decades. Yet, Aaron Boone decided to hit a series winning walk off homerun against Tim Wakefield (who I met in Martha’s Vineyard, really nice dude.) The next year, the Yankees stole A-Rod away from the Sox and went into the season with 8 potential Hall of Fame players. Yikes.
To make matters worse, Pedro Martinez famously called the Yankees his “daddy.” Oh no.
Flash forward to game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. It is the bottom of the 9th inning in Fenway Park. The whole ballpark knows Dave Roberts is going to try and steal second base against Jorge Posada. He does it anyways and is safe. Bill Mueller knocks in Roberts to tie the game. David Ortiz hits a walk off homer in extra innings and the greatest comeback in the history of sports began.
The Red Sox go onto win this series, and the World Series, and a bunch of idiots becomes one of the most beloved teams in sports while ending an 86 year title drought. Nuff said.
Alright Mr. Durant, what is the lesson here?
Timing matters. History matters. Context matters.
Indulge me by reading another hypothetical situation. Pretend you are LeBron James and you have to remove two of your three titles from history. Totally obliviated. No one remembers them, they only remember the one of your choosing. Which one do you pick?
Does LeBron go with title number one? Maybe. He beat an OKC team that was still too young to really win it all. But, it is his first title. I still say no, though. What about title number two? With the help of Ray Allen (UConn shoutout) LeBron beats a two-decade old Spurs dynasty and one of the best coaches to ever do it? Maybe, but I am not sold.
The obvious choice is that LeBron would keep the 2016 trophy. The title he won by being the first ever team to come back from a 1-3 deficit and win it all. The first title in Cleveland in over 50 years. Beating a team which had just won an NBA record 73 games and possessed a 2x MVP who was also the first unanimous MVP in NBA history, a team which had beat them the year before.
Yeah, he’s picking that one.
But LeBron isn’t just picking this title because it has sentimental value to him and his home state. He’s picking it because it was the toughest feat he has ever accomplished. This was his Mt. Everest. His Ivan Drago.
In others words, the 2016 title is worth more because it has more value.
Woah. Reread that. I’ll give you a second…
…Okay, are you back? Good to go?
Titles can change in value, although that does not mean LeBron now has 3.5 titles. Numeric value doesn’t change, but legacy-value changes. LeBron truthers can always say: Did Jordan ever come back 1-3 to beat a 73 win team with an MVP and bring the first title to his home state in 52 years?
That means something, right? Context matters. What is KD’s context?
In the most factual and objective way possible, Durant left a team that just blew a 3-1 lead in the WCF. Furthermore, he left a team loaded with talent, including a future MVP. He left his team to go to what may already be the most dominant dynasty in all of 21st Century American sport. He left his team to go to a team who were already title favorite the past two seasons and will be for the foreseeable future.
I’ll be even more blunt.
Kevin Durant joined an uber-talented, title winning team who many were fans were already starting to hate.
The rule here, Espo?
Championships are weighted by cultural habitat during the time of the title
So, how do I really feel?
We now know that while a championship never has a numerical value of more than one, it can still have a legacy-value of more than one. Paul Pierce only has one ring. Yet, he will be remembered as a better Celtic than Kevin McHale, who has three rings and beat their rival Lakers! Don’t be fooled, either. It is strictly Pierce’s ring which allows him to be in the top three greatest Celtics discussion.
What’s more impressive? Completing the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history to bring a title to your birth state, or joining an historically talented, record breaking team and beating Cleveland in the finals?
If you like to observe truth, then clearly LeBron’s title is more impressive. Oh, and what does impressive mean? Quite literally, it means “to evoke admiration.” And if we admire one title more than the other, shouldn’t it reflect in a player’s all-time legacy?
So here it all is. The three principles for establishing legacy through championships.
#1. Championships are weighted according to the talent in the tournament.
#2. Championships are weighted according to the talent you directly compete against.
#3. Championships are weighted by cultural habitat during the time of the title.
As of right now, people are torn about how to weight KD’s titles towards his legacy? Should we hate KD? Should we ease up a bit? My twitter poll doesn’t know what to do either.
But now you know the rules. Go and make your own judgement.
Toronto. Seriously? Yes, Toronto.
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