With LeBron James' reputation at its lowest point, the new favorite of most NBA scribes and fans is clearly Kevin Durant. No moment supposedly showed the difference between the two than when Durant announced his contract extension quietly on Twitter on the same day James announced he was having that ridiculous ESPN one-hour special. Durant was humble, whereas James was arrogant.
But as we all know and often forget, there's a tendency these days for us to put athletes on a pedestal, only to bring them down as soon as something remotely bad happens to them. There's also a tendency to build one athlete up as everything a different athlete is not, even though they probably have much more in common than anyone realizes.
That's basically the point Tommy Craggs makes in this thought-provoking Slate article today.
Craggs writes that Durant is praised not on his own merits, but rather because he isn't LeBron James.
This is how sports heroes are made nowadays-not by some feat of athletic transcendence, but by virtue of not being the bogeyman of the day.
The article bugged a couple people close to Durant himself. Royce Young, who runs the Thunder blog Daily Thunder, wondered how Craggs could possibly judge Durant's character. Meanwhile, Nate Jones, who does digital media and marketing for Durant's representative firm Goodwin Sports, had this to say.
Get Tommy Craggs point, but KD has made a point to just be himself. Not trying to be some perfect angel. Read his twitter bio.
Twitter bio says I'm me, I do me and I chill. He's not trying to do anything but play ball and hang out with his friends and fam
And KD is a genuinely nice guy. None of the stuff is planned. Ask reporters how many superstars do pre-game media every single night?
Lastly he's well aware that the same media that has built him up can tear him down. He's said it several times in interviews.
That's why he points it out every time someone tries to knock LeBron in favor of him. He might change one day, but he's very genuine
I don't doubt that Durant, at his core, is a pretty chill person that is more interested in being known for his basketball success than for his fame. But I also don't know it for sure. Nobody really does, even the people that hang around listening to his sound bites. While I wouldn't go so far as to say Durant has simply sold himself better recently than LeBron has, I also won't go so far in the other direction as to say he and whoever around him isn't "selling" him at all. It has to benefit Team Durant when his image is as strong as it is right now.
Craggs' point isn't that we have Durant judged all wrong; it's that we can't really judge Durant well in the first place. Loose comparisons to other stars of his era are faulty, because, as Craggs notes, LeBron was once judged positively because he wasn't Kobe Bryant, and Bryant was judged positively because he wasn't Allen Iverson. When we write and think about athletes, we have to ask ourselves whether we're judging them positively on their own merits or on the way they compare to others. If it's the latter, we have to think about just how accurate we are with these character judgments.
It's too bad that Durant has to be the example used when bringing this subject up, but that shouldn't stop us from thinking about it.