On Feb. 11, Kevin Durant made his highly anticipated return to Oklahoma City as a member of the Golden State Warriors. The superstar did not receive a warm welcome; the OKC crowd booed him loudly when the starting lineups were announced and whenever he touched the ball during the game.
This was to be expected because the former Thunder star left the city where he was adored following a brutal playoff series against Golden State. The Thunder were up 3-1 in that series, but dropped three straight games to lose 4-3. When Durant bolted to Golden State the following summer, Thunder fans rightfully felt betrayed.
By halftime, the Warriors were up 73-50, forcing my friend, who is a Thunder fan, to turn off the TV.
When I asked my friend why he turned off the TV, he gave me a look that said, “I’m a little bit disappointed, but mostly bored.”
On the same day as the Warriors-Thunder game, the Philadelphia 76ers announced that Joel Embiid had a partially torn meniscus. It was later revealed that the injury did not require surgery and the star center is likely to return this season. Two days earlier, Jabari Parker — another young star — tore his ACL for a second time, ending his bright season, just the third of the 21-year-old’s career. Five days earlier, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Zach LaVine tore his ACL as well. Ben Simmons, the number one pick in last year’s draft, has yet to play a game this season due to injury.
That sums up this NBA season nicely. It is a feeling that started with Durant’s anti-competitive move to Golden State and has continued through the recent string of serious injuries.
The odd thing is that the NBA should be great right now. There are more superstars today than there have been since Michael Jordan’s early days with the Chicago Bulls. The athletes are stronger and faster. The skills are more polished. The plays are more complex and eye-catching. Teams are putting up more points than ever before. We are witnessing an offensive revolution in the form of the small-ball style, with its reliance on three-point shooting.
Russell Westbrook drops triple-doubles almost every game. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Durant put on shooting clinics most nights for the Warriors. In Washington, John Wall blazes past defenders while Georgetown’s own Otto Porter is firing on all cylinders. In Boston, Isaiah Thomas is putting up 30 points per game. Anthony Davis is dominating every player he faces in the paint. And let us not forget the steady greatness of LeBron James, the second-best basketball player to ever step out onto the hardwood.
Even with all this talent, many fans share my friend’s sense of boredom and disappointment. There is something missing. Call it fire, call it competitiveness, call it drive, but there is an essential part of the game that is not there right now.
This element has to be brought back, and it starts with the players. The practice of leaving your team when you cannot win to build an all-star squad elsewhere has to stop.
After James and Durant have ended their undeniably great careers, the next generation of stars can do better by showing more loyalty to their fans and teammates. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Parker should stay in Milwaukee and win together. So should Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and LaVine in Minnesota. If stars like these stay put, then they will be able to make the NBA exciting again.
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