The NBA world was abuzz. With the trade deadline quickly approaching, every story, trade, and rumor was reported with lightning quickness, an unspoken race among reporters of who would be the first to uncover the big storylines. But surprisingly, it was a silence that perhaps spoke the loudest. Kevin Durant’s mysterious nine-day media silence somehow spurred more speculation, storylines, and spectacle than anything he’s ever actually said as a Warrior.
Some members of the media strongly believe Durant will take his talents to New York this summer to join the Knicks. And their belief was strongest after the Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks–opening up cap space for the Knicks to sign two star players to the max. Durant’s subsequent silence spoke volumes.
Is he really going to New York? Is it already a forgone conclusion? Is he avoiding the media because he doesn’t want to reveal his decision? How has he not gotten fined yet? These questions swirled around the internet world as the media waited and waited for Durant to make an appearance. And while he still obliged to one-on-one interviews during that time, a majority of the media was left waiting out in the cold, ready to pounce on Durant’s next move.
The silence was broken on February 9th, after the Warriors had just soundly defeated the San Antonio Spurs, and Durant chose to finally speak with the media. Well, if you can call this 2-minute, 50-second rant speaking “with” the media.
Durant scolded and rebuked members of the media, insisting that “every time I say something, it gets twisted and thrown out.” Which is why he also bluntly noted, “I don’t trust none y’all.”
His tirade may make him out to be sensitive or as one who doesn’t know how to handle the spotlight. But let’s examine his words–do they have some truth to them?
This is the full 2:50 of Kevin Durant addressing why he hasn't been talking to the media lately: "I just don't trust none of y'all." pic.twitter.com/MtftOpa3e4
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 7, 2019
The “media” today consists of every online and print publication that’s able to publish words. In today’s world, anyone, and everyone, can be a “journalist.” Anyone can have an opinion to share with the world, and with social media outlets like Twitter, they often do. Whether on Twitter, of which Durant has an account (and maybe some burner ones too?), or on a legitimate media outlet, the storyline of Durant leaving was strongest during this time span.
Here’s a taste of what was being said during Durant’s media silence:
The Media During Durant’s 9-Day Silence
In the Bay Area’s local media, the Mercury News published an article about Durant on February 3rd. The author, Dieter Kurtenbach, noted that Durant had not said anything additional about his free agency future. KD’s teammates were unaffected by Durant’s impending decision. And it seemed like “business as usual” for the Warriors trekking through this season.
Yet KD’s media silence allowed an opening for Kurtenbach to infer that Durant was likely to go to the New York. Kurtenbach went on to say, about KD not talking to the media, that “you can’t convince me that has nothing to do with the Knicks.”
The storyline of Durant to the Knicks only gained more traction with this New York Times article by Marc Stein. On February 5th, Stein analyzed the trade details of the Porzingis-to-the-Mavericks trade and its impact in the league. Inevitably, Stein brought up Durant. He noted that the Knicks luring Durant away has “never been more real” to the Warriors.
The quote alone went on to spark multiple articles on various media outlets, including the Bay Area’s NBC Sports site and Yahoo Sports. Yahoo also added that this must be a new development, because Anthony Slater of The Athletic had reported a few months ago that the Warriors weren’t worried about the Knicks in the free agency arms race.
“The Warriors in zero way fear the Knicks in these sweepstakes. Durant may decide to go to New York in July. They know that. The buzz is legitimate. The connections are there. His business manager, Rich Kleiman, is a New York-based Knicks fan with dreams of working in their front office one day. Royal Ivey, perhaps Durant’s best friend, is on David Fizdale’s coaching staff.
But in all aspects of basketball success and organizational management, the areas in which the Warriors can control, they are superior.”
Just a few months ago, the feelings of worry and dread of KD leaving were nowhere to be found. The Warriors, as well as the rest of the NBA world, knew it was a real possibility on the horizon, but they were confident about the things they could control.
Ethan Strauss brought up the exact same sentiment in his February 5th article. Strauss divulged, “In speaking to Warriors’ brass, you can detect a calm about the situation that belies its stakes. This is because there’s not much the Warriors can do right now. There’s a comfort in that.”
Which brings up the question: With multiple reports saying the Warriors aren’t worried while acknowledging reality, was Stein’s statement legitimate? Is this feeling of “becoming more real” something that was actually communicated? Was it a Warriors’ executive who directly told the media that he’s getting nervous about KD leaving? Or was it merely an inference made based on how people would naturally react and on what other executives believe?
This article by NBC Sports on February 1st only added fuel to the fire. One NBA executive believed that the Knicks have already been told KD is coming in the summer. Which was why they pulled the blockbuster Porzingis trade. But even as the NBC Sports article itself noted, this is all speculation at this point. Though it’s a pretty strong claim for a league executive to be almost sure that Durant is coming to New York in the offseason.
On February 4th, NBC Sports also published an article that the public would eat up, despite the content not being particularly newsworthy. The article broke down which Tweets relating to free agency that Durant has “liked” on his Twitter account recently, and what that might mean for him. It really didn’t add up to much, but it did contribute to the narrative that the media could make a storyline out of anything.
And then there’s the article that Durant himself brought up during his media rant. On February 5th, Ethan Strauss of The Athletic published an article entitled, “Silent Star: On the Presumed Exit of Kevin Durant.” In it, Strauss detailed what Durant’s mental journey must have been like, citing that KD believed he should have been viewed as the NBA’s best player after toppling LeBron James in the 2017 Finals.
In 2013, Durant declared he was “tired of being second” in everything. Durant longs to be the best, but even after two championships and two Finals MVP’s, Durant still hasn’t surpassed LeBron in the eyes of NBA pundits. And he likely won’t in the near future. Not after Durant beat him in 2017, in 2018, or if he does this year, even in 2019.
And Strauss even added that Durant has been seen to “outwardly sulk” during Warriors’ timeouts, choosing to stand away from the huddle of All-Stars. This, in addition to the fact that Durant wants to be the best, would make him fleeing for clearer pastures in New York seem more logical. And Strauss made that connection. But Durant, who cited that article in his tirade, obviously did not appreciate the conclusions Strauss made about where Durant is mentally.
Was Durant right in scolding the media?
With numerous articles all pointing to Durant’s seemingly-inevitable departure, it’s no wonder Durant was displeased. Speculation always surrounds stars as they approach free agency, but there has been a particular media downpour on Durant, especially with his silence.
The truth of the matter is that the media has freedom of speech. They are free to publish any narrative or storyline they want, no matter how thin the shreds of evidence are. In this case, many journalists saw a connection between Durant’s silence, what was going on in the NBA world, and what might be going on in KD’s head. And with the media now being mostly online, new articles and new storylines are needed every hour now more than ever before.
That being said, no one likes being gossiped about. And while this is all merely speculation, they all point to the same narrative: Durant to the Knicks. Durant may not have appreciated the onslaught of articles that proclaim him going to the Knicks. And for good reason. Some of the articles draw strong inferences based on one quote or one action. Which is what the media does.
And if Durant fired shots in his tirade, the media fired back. The feud between KD and the media continued with Tim Kawakami, who was one of the journalists reprimanded as he attempted to talk to Durant in that press conference. After Durant’s rant, Kawakami published this article defending the media, and how KD was wrong for talking to the media like he did.
Marcus Thompson also continued the bickering with this response article on how Durant needs to understand that simply playing basketball is not how this works. Even Ethan Strauss wrote his own response article that noted he won’t be taking orders from KD.
It’s a cycle that will never end. The media tends to treat players and stars as if they were lab rats running in a maze, analyzing every step, stop, or turn the rats make. And if one rat tries to escape the chaos, upset that he is, in fact, a lab rat? The scientists wouldn’t care. They would toss the rat back into the fray, and analyze the reasons why he doesn’t want to be a lab rat.
Such is the reality of the NBA. It’s basketball. But it’s more than that. It’s become, in a way, an ongoing reality TV show where the players are more famous than actual reality TV stars. And we as an audience-the fans and the media alike–project our feelings and our expectations onto these real players’ lives.
And we hang on every action or word that a star player does or says, anxious to see what kinds of narratives it’ll spark.
And sometimes, as in the curious case of Kevin Durant, it’s what a player doesn’t say that speaks the loudest.