We are a society bored without conflict. We demand drama, and not just of the competitive variety. We are a nation and world that loves to watch sports, but there's no denying that we gravitate toward the operatic. How else do you explain the Miami Heat's incredible ratings last season? Every writer in the nation (myself included) rushed to note how clinically boring the Heat usually were on the court; from a purely aesthetic view, there were good teams (the bemoaned San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder, the Memphis Grizzlies) that were much more pleasing to the eye. But everyone watched the Heat, no matter how sanitized the play itself was.
Why? I suspect it was one of those "love to hate" things; record audiences reveled in the monsoon of boos LeBron James received in his first game back in Cleveland. (I was certainly a part of that audience; it was TV most felt the need to watch live.) This isn't terribly new: the first game between a post-trade Shaq and Kobe Bryant (Heat vs. Lakers, 2004) remains one of the most highly-rated regular season games ever ... despite the fact that the Heat were borderline unwatchable under Stan Van Gundy early in that season. Fans bemoan the focus on non-basketball drama seeping into our basketball; fans consume the Hades out of non-basketball drama content that seeps into our basketball.
You can't blame them; I don't blame myself for wanting to know everything about the verbal blow-up between Durant and Westbrook as reported by The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry. The scribe reports that Westbrook was upset that Thabo Sefolosha passed up an open three-pointer on a drive-and-kick by the point guard. As Sefo and other Thunder players, including KD, attempted to calm Westbrook during a break in the action, Russ and Durant start yelling at each other and had to be hushed down by teammates. After the break, KD patted Westbrook's head and they continued to play. Westbrook had a dreadful game, shooting 0-13 from the floor, but that had started before the second quarter incident (and may very well have played into it; frustration is a nasty worm).
The unfortunate part isn't simply that we'll all pay too much attention to this apparently small incident instead of the Thunder's 3-0 record, Durant's blistering start to the season and Westbrook's second cold match out of three. It's that this will become part of the artificial Westbrook Vs. Durant canon, and observers -- primarily writers who couldn't be bothered to write about the game itself -- will consider this smoke from the burning flame of their own construction that they have placed under the Thunder's duo.
In the 2011 playoffs, we heard more about supposed tension between Westbrook and Durant than we did about the team's performance. We heard about Westbrook's overconfidence and reluctance to pass to the two-time NBA scoring champion. (This despite Westbrook averaging more than eight assists per game in each of Durant's scoring title seasons, and Durant relying more on others -- usually Westbrook -- to create shots for him than most other superstars.)
Durant is a saint in the eyes of nearly all, owed to his commendable humility, his easy simplicity, his beautiful floor game, all those Mama Durant smooches. Westbrook is a gremlin, a combo guard (hide the women) with, yes, supreme confidence. He's not your typical point guard, and certainly not the type of point guard the world at large likes to see on its great teams. (Compare Steve Nash's reputation as compared to that of three-time champion and one-time Finals MVP Tony Parker, who happens to be a decent comparison for Westbrook in terms of style and production.) We like Derek Fishers: muted, stoic, get-out-of-the-way-and-let-the-superstar-handle-it floor leaders ... not hyper-aggressive athletic freaks with quick synapses in the trigger finger. I blame Bob Cousy.
Westbrook may very be a moody teammate, and he may very well grate on Durant. But he's a killer player, the Thunder are young and fresh off of the conference finals and 3-0 after a tough road win. Shaq and Kobe weren't best friends, and they won three titles. But we read the tea leaves we've plucked from our observation of the Thunder, we see some cloud formation we don't like and we forget that there can be a little rain on a beautiful day.
The Thunder are almost assuredly fine. The sun is bright, and the dirt will dry. Instead of biting our nails in anticipation of the next storm, our time would be better spent appreciating what is wonderful about this team.
The Hook runs Monday through Friday. See the archives.