Because everything LeBron James does is a big deal, James’s decision to exercise the early-termination option in his Miami Heat contract and again become a free agent was a very big deal this week. Sports Web sites, sports TV shows, sports radio programs, social media: all once again developed LeBronchitis, sometimes accompanied by a persistent skepticism about James’s motives.
If James needed support, enter Kevin Durant. The NBA’s reigning NBA — in Washington on Wednesday afternoon to unveil his new Nike sneaker — said he didn’t understand the furor.
“I don’t know what the big deal is,” Durant said, shortly after his “KD7″ was revealed. “You know, as a player, I think that’s the best way to go about it. You can have all your options. It’s better for you as a player to opt-out, because you can get a market deal, you can get more years. You never know what will happen if you pass up on that. So I didn’t know what the big deal was. I’m sure it was a decision he made — something he was thinking about — for him and his family.”
Durant, of course, could face his own free agency decision in 2016. Various fan bases — including the one in Washington — are already salivating over this prospect. And yet, for the time being, Durant and Tim Duncan are heralded for their single-team loyalty, held up as the opposite of James.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” Durant told a small group of local reporters. “I don’t think anything that you guys criticize LeBron [about] is fair. He switched teams; he’s not the first guy to do it. He decided to opt out; he’s not the first guy to do it. Sometimes a lot of people criticize him a little bit too much for doing normal things, doing stuff that everybody has done. [Even] Tim Duncan went into free agency before. He got courted by quite a few teams. We’ll see what happens with me, but everybody’s done the same thing. He’s not the first.”
Durant — who said he began working out again this week after the first vacation of his professional career — spent much of the afternoon talking about how he wouldn’t let his recent MVP award distract him from his ultimate goal of a championship, which he called “the only thing you play for.”
“Obviously that’s a prestigious award, but I don’t play for individual awards,” he told Ahmad Rashad during the shoe unveiling at the Newseum. “I would love to help bring a championship back [to Oklahoma City], and that’s the main goal.”
Durant also, of course, talked at great length about his newest shoe, a “Bright Mango”-colored, lightning-inspired model whose ad campaign features comedian Dick Gregory. (Gregory was also at the event, which included a make-believe lightning strike in which the theater lights flashed. Even during that fake power outage, though, the air conditioning still felt pretty nice. Trust me, if the air conditioning had gone, no one was sticking around, not even to see the 4th of July-themed red, white and blue colorway.)
Rashad called the ad “one of the best commercials I have ever seen,” the sneaker “so incredible” and “a great-looking shoe,” and Durant “one of the best to ever play the game of basketball” and “by far one of the nicest superstars that you will ever meet.” And Durant sounded his typical themes of humility and hard work; he said he cried again while watching video of himself sobbing while delivering his MVP speech, and he said he’s anxious to get back on the court.
“You know, being the MVP and all that stuff is cool, but I have bigger goals in mind, bigger team goals,” he said. “I’ll just work on every aspect of my game, and bringing it back to my group is what I’m most excited about. I know I have a lot of work to do, and I’m looking forward to putting it in.”
The event was peppered with nods to Durant’s home town, from several dozen kids from Seat Pleasant who sat in the audience to the silhouette of Maryland on his new shoe’s outsole to his memories of growing up in Prince George’s County. So I sort of had to ask Durant how many requests for a permanent homecoming he receives during his regular trips to Washington.
“I’ve been getting a lot lately,” he said with a grin. “But everybody knows I love OKC and knows that I’m under contract right now. A lot of people ask me, but I just try to stay focused on today, and I’ll worry about that when I get there.”