We judge professional athletes different than most other people and at times it can be unfair.
At the same time, as fans it’s fine to not like Durant’s decision. It hurt OKC fans and it hurt them even more since the team he decided to join was the one that just eliminated the Thunder.
That’s really the hardest part about Durant’s decision and perhaps the hardest part to understand. We just haven’t seen athletes of Durant’s caliber make that move before. When you look back and think about who else could have done this and what that move would’ve looked like, it provides a different perspective when thinking about Durant’s move.
Here’s a list of every player that won an MVP before winning an NBA championship, along with the team that eliminated them the season they won their first MVP:
1954-55 – Bob Pettit – Hawks eliminated by Pistons
1959-60 – Wilt Chamberlain – Warriors eliminated by Celtics
1963-64 – Oscar Robertson – Royals eliminated by Celtics
1968-69 – Wes Unseld – Bullets eliminated by Knicks
1972-73 – Dave Cowens – Celtics eliminated by Knicks
1974-75 – Bob McAdoo – Braves eliminated by Bullets
1978-79 – Moses Malone – Rockets eliminated by Hawks
1980-81 – Julius Erving – Sixers eliminated by Celtics
1987-88 – Michael Jordan – Bulls eliminated by Pistons
1992-93 – Charles Barkley – Suns eliminated by Bulls
1994-95 – David Robinson – Spurs eliminated by Rockets
1996-97 – Karl Malone – Jazz eliminated by Bulls
2000-01 – Allen Iverson – Sixers eliminated by Lakers
2003-04 – Kevin Garnett – Timberwolves eliminated by Lakers
2004-05 – Steve Nash – Suns eliminated by Spurs
2006-07 – Dirk Nowitzki – Mavs eliminated by Warriors
2008-09 – LeBron James – Cavs eliminated by Magic
2010-11 – Derrick Rose – Bulls eliminated by Heat
It’s hard to imagine any of those guys going to the Celtics and it’s impossible to imagine Jordan joining the Pistons. Barkley joining the Bulls seems like the most plausible and in retrospect would’ve been the most most like what KD just did. Jordan retired after that NBA Finals though, essentially making a move like that impossible from happening.
Many of those players tried to (or just happened to) form super teams with rivals at some point later on. Wilt went to the Lakers, Barkley joined Hakeem Olajuwon on the Rockets, Malone went to the Lakers, and of course LeBron went to the Heat. Only LeBron made the move in his prime.
Only seven players from the list benefitted by staying put and eventually winning a title with that team. That’s less than half while five of the players that went on to play for different teams, won titles later in their careers. Only five players on the list didn’t win championships at some point in their career and all of them went on to play for other teams chasing a ring.
Durant’s decision is still somewhat in a class by itself. No other player in their prime made this kind of move.
A big reason why it never happened is also because it’s not always been possible for a player to make the kind of move Durant did. It really was the perfect storm last summer with the rising salary cap along with the Warriors’ collapse in the Finals to make the KD signing possible.
We’ll see if it pays off for KD. The Warriors are dominating this season but the only thing they’ll be judged on is rings.