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July 06, 2016

You can work where you want for what you want, so why can’t Kevin Durant?

In the aftermath of Kevin Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma City for Golden State, there has been a truly enlightening view of the sports landscape in general and the NBA in particular.

Durant’s choice to forego the Thunder and leave Russell Westbrook with the broken franchise turned into a sports chemistry lab of opinions, name calling and head shaking. In social media terms, half the people were left SMH, and the other half – well, their opinions were NSFW.

Now, a couple of days later, it’s easier to look at Durant’s decision and realize it was nothing more than what has become business as usual in not only the NBA but in sports in general.

Why shouldn’t the players be the ones to benefit from the stacks of dollars being thrown at the NBA from media outlets? Would it be better if the owners kept the deposit slips?

In fact, it has been business as usual for a very long time in the NBA, and here in Philadelphia all you have to do it go way back to the Sixers' last championship run when Moses Malone joined the team for a whole lot of money – and for a chance to play alongside a guy named Dr. J.

The NBA has become the envy of athletes in every other professional sport. While the NFL dominates the American sports scene in the same way soccer dominates across the globe, it is the NBA that has become so rich that even bench players are earning several million dollars a season for what amounts to cameo appearances.

At the top end, guys like LeBron, Durant and Wade get maximum contracts of $20 or $25 million per season – an amount that will become even more bloated when the NBA salary cap gets even bigger next season as the league coffers continue to swell with TV money.

And that should be the first point to be studied in the wake of Durant’s decision:

The money was just so much that some people are upset at the stupid sum paid to a basketball player.


Why shouldn’t the players be the ones to benefit from the stacks of dollars being thrown at the NBA from media outlets? Would it be better if the owners kept the deposit slips?

Players in other sports are jealous because the simple math is that it doesn’t take that many players to complete a basketball roster – and a single star can make a huge difference. The democratic part of the equation is that the huge contracts awarded to the stars do trickle down to what you can comically call a “middle class” of players who still take home about $6 or $7 million per – and toil in relative obscurity.

And please spare the ridiculous argument that the average fan cannot go to a game because of player salaries. The simple American way of commerce is that tickets are priced at what people will pay – no more, no less.

You want a sane argument about money and fans; you might consider the decision of cities and states to throw money at teams to stay by building stadiums or giving tax breaks. The Thunder themselves, after all, abandoned Seattle in 2008 for a better deal in Oklahoma City.

You want a discussion point? Stay away from the tired creed that players make obscene money, and consider why the NBA hasn’t changed the game so that more players have to be involved … wouldn’t it be nice to have extra bench players who make meaningful contributions past the sixth man?

The next point of outrage appears to be that Durant went to a team that was ready made to win. More than a few national pundits considered this a sign of weakness, suggesting that a real star would want to build something on his own, rather than tagging on with a proven winner.

To be fair here, there is a stink around the choice of going to the very team that knocked the Thunder out of the playoffs, but that is not Durant’s pain to wear. Durant is not a fan of the Thunder, he is what just about every other player in every other sport has become – an independent contractor willing to go to the best situation, and that situation is judged by both money and a chance to win.

It is not a difficult formula and in Philadelphia, fans of the 76ers are waiting for the day when the Sixers have enough weapons on their roster to attract a player like Durant. That is exactly why so many eyes turned to the NBA Summer League games to see the baby steps of Ben Simmons, who is the franchise’s best hope to put it at that level.

There was also an outcry because Durant used Derek Jeter’s The Players Tribune to announce his plans. It was not nearly out there as The Decision by James, who used an entire network, but it was a statement that Durant was calling his own shots on his own terms.

There was nothing scurrilous, underhanded, and weak-kneed or embarrassing about the choice.

So, instead of faking moral outrage, maybe NBA fans should demand that their respective franchises put together strong enough rosters to make their teams attractive landing spots for superstars.

Especially the one here in Philadelphia.