This clip was floating around the internet before Saturday’s big game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors. I wrote about Kevin Durant last summer, and I mentioned I’d be bringing him up again. But this post isn’t to rail about how Kevin Durant is a coward (he is) or how he made a sub-optimal choice that will ultimately impact his legacy as a player in the NBA (he did) or how such a decision was likely to move him out of the limelight as one of the NBA’s premier players (it has). As I’ve said before, it’s his decision to make. Though I do expect I’ll be touching on this again.
No, the point of today’s article was actually inspired by the thread on reddit’s /r/nba sub-reddit, specifically, a chain of comments from a few Oklahoma City fans asking where to buy this. One of them, in particular, got me thinking. You can read it here. Basically, the point is that Kevin Durant could get ahead of the curve and sell these himself, in a strategy made famous by Brian Bosworth when he sold thousands of anti-Boz shirts to Denver fans that he himself had created.
I’m sure Bozworth didn’t know it, but he was acting out one of the most critical acts of war – he controlled the dynamic by taking the initiative anas forcing the narrative. Actually, he definitely didn’t considering the book was published about 10 years after Boz retired. But still, good strategy.
If you want a more basketball related example, look no further than the man who defeated the Warriors in last year’s NBA finals: LeBron James. When he was making his “decision” about where to play next, LeBron tried to soften the blow of leaving Cleveland by hosting a television special that would donate all of its profits to charity. By doing this, James supposed, he would sway public opinion away from his decision to leave his hometown of Cleveland. As we all know, this blew up in a big way. James quickly became the league’s villain after ushering in the era of the super-team in Miami. Though he would eventually turn that around, it would take years for him to overcome this stumble.
Look, these tactics aren’t perfect, especially if you don’t follow through. Being congruent is very important. By coining a very memorable sound bite by “taking his talents to South Beach” and hosting a party where he talked about all the championships he was going to win, he pretty much embraced being a villain instead of committing to the line of being a good guy. I mean, who could possibly think you weren’t going to get booed after this:
James balked when he saw his jersey getting burned in public, and, rather than stick to the course he decided to embrace being the bad guy. But he did try to control the public narrative, and it might have worked had he continued playing the squeaky clean good guy. Lucky for all of us he didn’t, because we got some great stories out of his time in Miami and it made his eventual return home all the sweeter. Sometimes failure can be a good thing.
The whole concept kind of permeates itself throughout all of sports. You hear announcers talking about it all the time, regardless of sport: one team wants to dictate the pace or the tempo. Teams want to take the ball out of Aaron Rodgers hands or slow down the clock in a basketball game or keep the match on the ground in the UFC. Usually, whoever does a better job of this wins. Mike Tyson said it best: “Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. If you punch the other guy in the mouth first, you can better execute your plan.
If you think about LeBron’s tactic as a more general sports strategy, he basically started his game by trying to play like the University of Wisconsin Men’s Basketball Team but decided to say “fuck it” five minutes into the game and proceeded to start running up and down the court like the seven seconds or less Suns. You’ve gotta stick to your guns (that’s another callback for those of you keeping score, these laws sort of compound on themselves).
Anyways, back to KD. He could have really come out of Saturday even more of a winner than he did by dropping 34 points en route to a win (seems like the Warriors had a plan of their own that they wanted to impose) by preemptively grabbing some of the shade that would inevitably be thrown his way. KD might not be the type of guy to sell T-Shirts like the Boz, but his teammate Draymond Green seems like a good fit for that (side note – using a cats paw to do your dirty work is a time honored strategy as well). Buying a block of tickets for an OKC youth organization might have been a good idea, and you can avoid a mistake of making it transparent by having a third party leak it to the press (cats paw, again). The options are numerous, take some time to use your imagination to come up with a stunt Durant could’ve used. The crazier, the better.
All of this, of course, assumes that Kevin Durant needed to do something in order to give himself a positive social edge here. Maybe he doesn’t, that’s certainly an argument to make. If he’s not the kind of person to go for that sort of thing, that’s fine, but I’d argue he’s leaving a lot of meat on the bone in developing the Kevin Durant brand. It’s foolish to say that a players image doesn’t factor into their legacy, and a well placed act here could’ve built Durant some very important social cache at a time when he’s slipped into the second tier of the NBA among a lot of fans.
Michael Jordan might be the GOAT because of his litany of rings, but guys like Charles Barkley manage to make the all times great list with zero. That doesn’t happen without his fiery and memorable personality. It might be a fine line to walk, but as long as you don’t go overboard (sorry TO), it usually helps you more than it hurts.
Even if he doesn’t need to do this sort of thing, that’s probably not the case for all of us commoners. We’re not all multi-million dollar athletes who can do whatever we want whenever we want to do it. As I said before, this strategy has real life implications, it is not only useful in sports, but in day to day life. Have a problem with your boss? Bring it up before they can. Know your friends are mad at you? Take control of the situation before it spirals out of control. Basically, any time you can, you want to be dictating what’s going on around you. Make the problems in your life happen on your terms, bring them into your territory, whether that be physical or mental. The best way to do that varies from situation to situation, but you can usually figure a better solution by thinking proactively than by reacting to whatever happens around you.
Ultimately, we don’t know what would have happened if Kevin Durant had done something big before this game, but I think it’s pretty safe to say we’d be talking about it longer after the fact than we will his 34 point outburst.
Maybe not though. I mean, I’m still talking about him.