A recent feud between the Portland Trail Blazers’ C.J. McCollum and the Golden State Warriors Kevin Durant became a hot topic last week. After Durant appeared as a guest in McCollum’s podcast, “Pull Up with CJ McCollum,” the Blazers guard appeared to take a shot at the Warriors forward regarding his decision to join a stacked team in 2016 by calling it soft.
Durant responded to McCollum by tweeting, “U think that low of me CJ? I just did your f—in podcast. Snakes in the grass boy I tell ya.”
Over the past couple of years, Durant has been quite sensitive when he is criticized for his decisions. More specifically, his decision to sign with the Warriors two years ago has been the subject of condemnation from almost every media outlet since departing for the Bay Area. He practically defends that decision whenever he gets an opportunity. Heck, he even had a burner account to do that. Clearly, Durant is one of the most sensitive players today.
This begs the question—is Durant the most sensitive player in history?
That’s a tough question to answer but we can look into some players who have shown some kind of sensitivity in the past and compare them to Durant.
Durant’s Response to Being Called Sensitive
In an ESPN piece written by Ohm Youngmisuk, Durant was asked after a USA Basketball practice, if he has become weary of being told to keep quiet when it comes to criticism laid on him.
“Oh yeah,” Durant said. “I mean, it is just to the point that I know what you’re upset at. Just say it instead of make excuses. Know what I’m saying? I got too many texts or I talk too much on Instagram or I talk too much on Twitter or I don’t know how to talk to my teammates, or I am angry or insecure or sensitive. Tell me what the real problem is.
“Because every time I say something, I go about my business, and when I say something, House of Highlights and Bleacher Report [mash] it all up and y’all run with it, and as soon as I say something back, I’m the sensitive one. I mean, I know y’all trying to make me look crazy and discredit me and strip me of my credibility. But I see what you doing. But I’m going to still keep standing.”
Durant’s response shows that he is clearly upset with the media and how he is being portrayed. He engages fans in social media every chance he gets and defends himself often to the point of being as harsh as the tone of the one sending the criticism his way.
By responding negatively to nearly every criticism he has received (at least those he becomes aware of), Durant set himself up for more criticism. The cycle doesn’t seem to end as he continues to engage his critics harshly.
But what about other great players? Have any of them shown any kind of sensitivity as well?
For a time, James had been labeled sensitive, too. Some of his critics included NBA Hall of Famer and now NBA on TNT analyst Charles Barkley. Those who know Barkley know and understand that he speaks his mind no matter who he has to criticize. That includes his best friend Michael Jordan whom he also criticized as a bad owner.
“I’m not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that,” James said in January of 2017 via ESPN after Barkley criticized him for how badly the Cavs were playing and how the four-time MVP wanted more help. “I’m not the one who threw somebody through a window. I never spit on a kid. I never had unpaid debt in Las Vegas. I never said, ‘I’m not a role model.’ I never showed up to All-Star Weekend on Sunday because I was in Vegas all weekend partying.
“All I’ve done for my entire career is represent the NBA the right way. Fourteen years, never got in trouble. Respected the game. Print that.”
Fox Sports analyst Rob Parker last year even called him the M.S.O.A.T. or the most sensitive player of all time. However, Parker recently recanted and gave that title to Durant during an episode of Collin Cowherd’s “The Herd” after Durant’s repeated heated exchanges with fans and the media.
“It makes no sense,” Parker told Cowherd. “You just said it. The guy’s won two championships, two MVPs in the Finals, and instead of people thinking of him as the second-best player in the league, he is officially the M.S.O.A.T.”
“What’s that?” Cowherd asked
“Most Sensitive of All Time,” Parker replied. “He’s the M.S.O.A.T. because he is that guy, Colin. He’s got a burner phone. Who has a burner phone who has two MVPs in the NBA Finals? Who cares if Johnny in his basement, eating French fries and drinking a Dr. Pepper doesn’t like you or says something that you gotta respond back to him? Kevin Durant should be in Europe on vacation, somebody feeding him grapes. That’s what he should be doing! What kind of life are you living where you’re worried about the fans and what they’re saying? Or the sportswriters. The story you said about The Oklahoman recanting and taking back a headline [because of Durant’s comments]. What? Are you kidding me?”
Parker isn’t exaggerating when he says these things because Durant debates and contradicts fans and the media who don’t see things from his perspective.
It seems unusual to think that Michael Jordan, arguably the best basketball player who ever laced a pair of sneakers, will be labeled sensitive. But Jordan cared about what people thought about him. He would read newspaper articles that talk about him, wondering what people thought of him.
But what differentiated Jordan from Durant is how he responded. More often than not, when His Airness would be irked by what a player or a coach said, he would have a curt reply and then let his game do the talking. The box score from his game against that player or coach’s team that Jordan and the Bulls faced would show No. 23 scored between 40 to 55 points. Take that.
However, Jordan also had his run-ins with the media. They criticized his gambling during the playoffs and questioned his betting buddies and how much he owed them.
In his speech during his first retirement in 1993, though the Chicago Bulls legend said that the media didn’t drive him away from the game, he still had some form of animosity toward them. He referred to the media as “you guys,” a term that he used to totally distance himself from the people who covered his every move.
“I went through all the different stages of getting myself prepared for the next year, and the desire was not there and it wasn’t like everyone had speculated about all the different media pressure and all the different pressures that I was feeling. I deal with pressure all the time and I’ve always said I would never let you guys run me out of the game. So don’t think that you’ve done that.”
Later, when he came back, the media was more measured when it came to criticism against him and, after a stint in baseball, Jordan was more appreciative of the game and everything that surrounded it.
But make no mistake about it. If anyone had dared say anything to agitate him, that player or coach (remember, Jeff Van Gundy?) was getting his behind handed to him the next time they met.
The Answer had quite the response regarding criticism about his reported lack of time practicing. During a media session, Allen Iverson was asked by a reporter to clarify issues regarding his practice time with the team. Here’s Iverson’s practice rant as transcribed by Genius.com:
“If I can’t practice, I can’t practice. If I’m hurt, I’m hurt. Simple as that. It’s not about that at all. But it’s easy to talk about and sum it up when you just talk about practice; we’re sitting here, and I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we’re in here talking about practice. I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice. Not a game! Not a game! Not a game! We’re talking about practice. Not a game; not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last, not the game, we’re talking about practice, man. I mean, how silly is that? We’re talking about practice. I know I’m supposed to be there, I know I’m supposed to lead by example, I know that. And I’m not shoving it aside like it don’t mean anything. I know it’s important. I do. I honestly do. But we’re talking about practice, man. What are we talking about? Practice? We’re talking about practice, man!
We’re talking about practice! We’re talking about practice… We ain’t talking about the game! We’re talking about practice, man! When you come to the arena, and you see me play… You see me play, don’t you?”
Iverson was so upset with the query from the reporter as he somewhat questioned his integrity as the leader of the Philadelphia 76ers. Years later, Iverson was able to move on from this incident and joke about the experience. For those who know Iverson, he often considers himself as misunderstood but he also recognized later on that some of the criticisms about him were valid.
Iverson is quite a sensitive individual. Who knows what he would have said on social media back in the day if it had existed then?
One of the most sensitive players in the game’s history is none other than Shaquille O’Neal. Whenever he felt slighted, he would speak to the media about that person. It didn’t matter if it was his teammate (Kobe more times than not) or someone else.
Shaq didn’t play during the age of Twitter where comments or criticisms of him could come from just about anywhere. But he knows when someone doesn’t appreciate him and that often bothers him a lot. Whenever someone criticizes him, he almost immediately lashes out with a tirade against that person.
When Dwight Howard wore a Superman shirt and a cape during the 2008 NBA Slam Dunk Contest (which he won by the way), O’Neal was incensed. Shaq had already declared that he was the Superman of the NBA much earlier and he is a huge fan of the character. When Howard took on the moniker, O’Neal felt that his nickname was being taken from him.
In terms of sensitivity, O’Neal may actually be up there together with Durant. He is the closest to Durant but the Lakers legend didn’t have the benefit of social media to respond to criticism. If you want to have an idea of how he would have responded to criticism on social media when he was a player, just check out his Twitter war with JaVale McGee. O’Neal practically fights back against anyone and everyone.
The only difference between O’Neal and Durant is that the former didn’t join a stacked 73-9 win team. Durant did and now he is paying dearly for it in the media. And in the world of social media, everyone is free game including a two-time champion and MVP awardee.
Durant and McCollum
Though they appeared to have had a falling out, Durant assured everyone that everything is cool between them.
“This is not East Coast-West Coast beef,” Durant said. “CJ, I am going to have some wine with him in New York when he gets back from China and take a picture if you all really don’t believe me.”
The two players likely settled their differences behind-the-scenes as all feuds should be addressed.
So is Durant the M.S.O.A.T.?
While it’s hard to answer this question definitively, Durant may not necessarily be the most sensitive player ever, but he is probably the most sensitive player in the modern NBA. He needs to tone it down and just let his game do the talking.
Here’s my personal message to Durant:
When you joined a team that had the best record in NBA history at the time and you’re the second-best player in the game, you opened yourself to a lot of criticism and questions about your competitiveness. You have to accept the fact that that decision is going to haunt you for the rest of your career no matter how many rings you win. As long as you play for the Warriors, every achievement you have will be watered down because of the quality of the team that you joined.
Just swallow your pride and get on with your basketball career. If people dislike you or criticize you for it, you don’t need to respond negatively to it. Accept the criticism and walk away. Because the only way you can stop the conversation is by not engaging in it.
Choose your battles and only engage those that you can win.