“We live in this superhero comic book world where you’re either a villain or superhero in this position”
– Kevin Durant’s introductory press conference with Golden State (7/7/16)
Perhaps the quote above was Kevin Durant and Golden State’s version of LeBron James’ infamous “not one, not two….” proclamation during the introduction of Miami’s super team in 2010. The villain label has since stuck with KD and the Warriors after they ran through the first three rounds of the postseason on a torrid 12-0 pace. A simple quote may have been the first item on a long path leading to the Warriors becoming the league’s most hated team.
It has been nearly a year since Kevin Durant and LeBron James completely switched roles in the NBA’s spotlight. One player quickly became the villain, while the other miraculously morphed back into the lovable underdog. After leading his small market team within a game of knocking off the league’s greatest regular season team, Durant defected to that same powerhouse months later. James on the other hand, left a dynasty for the chance to win for his hometown team just two years prior.
The shift in narrative can be traced back to last season’s NBA Finals. Trailing 3-1, the Cavaliers suddenly became an overwhelming underdog. And compared to the Warriors, they also became the more likable team. Draymond Green’s cheap shot on James in game four was followed by Steph Curry’s mouth guard toss that struck a Cleveland fan in game six. All this was compounded by the fact that Klay Thompson questioned LeBron’s manhood during that series. NBA fans witnessed the trash talk and general disrespect from the Warriors, and for the first time in years, sided with LeBron James.
It was that very same player that became the league’s top villain in 2010. LeBron’s infamous decision was nationally televised when he turned his back on the Cavs to take his talents to south beach. Cleveland fans collectively took to the streets to burn LeBron jerseys. Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert wrote a pointed letter about the affair, promising Cleveland a championship before James claimed one in Miami.
The rest of the league’s fans followed Cleveland’s lead. For four entire seasons, America routed against LeBron and the Miami Heat. The team’s loss in the finals against the Dallas Mavericks was celebrated by fans rooting against the super team’s formation. LeBron was the bad guy…..until he morphed back into the underdog thanks to Golden State.
The Warriors’ collection of talent could not have been any different from the way Pat Riley and company went about things in 2010. Their team assembled talent through the draft. Steph Curry was taken seventh overall in 2009. Two years later, they drafted Klay Thompson. And in the 2012 draft, the team added three key pieces in Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, and Draymond Green. One year after winning their first NBA title, they were beloved by fans……until Kevin Durant hopped aboard via free agency.
In one summer, the Warriors became the Heat – a team fans love to hate. Their cocky attitudes combined with borderline dirty play rubbed many fans the wrong way. Adding Durant only kept with the villainous path Golden State began marching towards as they unraveled against the Cavaliers in the finals.
Durant knew what position he was in way back when he took the podium for the first time as a Warrior last July. He knew the scrutiny and hatred his team would face because the same thing happened years ago with LeBron. As they once again await the Cavaliers for a third straight meeting in the finals, Golden State seems to relish their role as villains. But, it’s a slippery slope. Once you embrace the hate, you encourage it. And rest assured, the hatred for Golden State will be at an all-time high when another title is on the line.