Stephen A. Smith and Kevin Durant have had their differences in the past. With the Warriors forward now set to take part in the second NBA Finals of his decorated career, and his first since an unsuccessful trip with the Thunder in 2012, the ESPN pundit could be ramping the bad blood back up.
On Monday, hours before Durant and Golden State finished off the San Antonio Spurs, 129-115, completing a Western Conference finals sweep, Smith minced few words in blasting recent comments by the decorated forward. Responding to a question Saturday after the Warriors’ Game 3 win about NBA fans’ discontent with the way Durant’s squad and the Cavaliers had been steamrolling through the postseason, he said, “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.”
“He’s aged. And along the process of aging, he’s gotten more arrogant, he’s gotten more disrespectful, he’s gotten more dismissive, particularly of the fans,” Smith said on ESPN’s “First Take.” “To be quite honest with you, he hasn’t gotten smarter. And the reason why he hasn’t gotten smarter is because the younger Durant never would have said something so flagrantly disrespectful toward fans.”
Just before his “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it” line, Durant had expressed some understanding of fans’ frustration with a postseason in which, to that point, neither the Warriors nor the Cavs had lost or, for the most part, even been challenged (Cleveland went on to lose Game 3 of its series with Boston).
“The fans, they always want to see a tight game; they want to see a buzzer beater every game,” the eight-time all-star said. “But, you know, it’s not like that sometimes. You have your years where you have great playoff series, [where there are] four or five Game 7s, and then you have what you see this playoffs.”
To Smith, Durant’s comments were part of a pattern in which the 2014 MVP, who memorably shed tears while giving credit to his mother for that award, has taken a turn from likable to something darker. “Maybe it’s a product of the fact that you are in your 10th year, and you have to jump on a well-oiled machine already to get yourself a championship,” he said, “because being a superstar that you were still wasn’t good enough to get it done on your own, even with Russell Westbrook as your teammate.”
In 2015, Smith had issued Durant an on-air threat after the latter had accused the ESPN personality of “lying” about his free agency plans. “You don’t want to make an enemy out of me,” Smith said at the time.
When Durant defected from the Thunder to the Warriors in July, he received widespread criticism, not least from Smith, who called the move “weak.” Smith repeated that wording Monday, calling that decision by Durant “the weakest move I have ever seen by any superstar in any sport.”
Noting that Durant has received nothing like the scrutiny and criticism as LeBron James despite not having led teams to anywhere near the success the Cavs star has enjoyed, Smith said, “Kevin Durant has been on a damn-near 10-year honeymoon. And we can tell, because look how he acts, the second somebody is critical of anything.
“And by the way, I think the NBA might consider fining him. You’re gonna tell the fans not to watch? Really, that’s what you’re gonna say? Not smart.”
Before Game 4 and after Smith’s comments, Durant addressed his remarks from two days previously and offered an apology. “I mean, life can be simple,” he told ESPN. “If you don’t like the way the game is going, just turn it off. If you’re enjoying it, just keep it on. Life is simple.
“I didn’t mean it to disrespect anybody, but if you felt disrespected, I’m sorry. But if you don’t enjoy the game, turn it off [and] turn something else on. If you do, enjoy the rest of it, man.”
Fans of the Warriors will certainly have to find something else to watch for the next 10 days, as their team will kick up its heels until the Finals start on June 1. The Cavs-Celtics series has at least two more games left, giving Smith some actual basketball to discuss, if he so chooses, but it also leaves plenty of time to go over Durant’s strengths and weaknesses.