By now you’ve heard that Kevin Durant, arguably the third best player in the world, has left the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the second best player in the world, Steph Curry, on the Golden State Warriors. This decision has been quite controversial. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith called the decision “weak” while Charles Barkely said he’s “cheating his way into a championship”. Larry Bird said he would’ve never thought of joining Magic Johnson and the Lakers. Others say it’s no different than what Lebron did in going to Miami (which is true but that’s not a good thing).
The truth is Oklahoma City was only a few pieces away from a championship. They’ve been an elite team over the past nine years. If working with Russell Westbrook was getting difficult or the team was stagnating, it doesn’t matter. As a superstar it’s your team. You make the team in your image. Other players can come and go, coaches can come and go, but it’s your team and as a superstar you lead and make demands when necessary. I’ll continue to respect Kevin Durant as one of the top basketball players in the world, but this decision has changed the way I see him as a leader, competitor and future legend.
You see, I’m a bit old school. In my opinion, this generation of ball players has no pride (the good kind). Back in the day people cared more about the game than their endorsement deals, jersey sales and big contracts. Basketball was a sport of egos, pride and self-respect. In fact, the only thing that was more important than winning rings was pride. Superstars were emblems of their franchises and they often stayed put for their whole careers. Players on different teams didn’t go out for dinner before they played each other even if they were friends. They actually competed at All Star games, trying to show each other up and prove they were the best. You even got to see Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins go head-to-head in slam dunk competitions.
Today you can hardly get the top players to compete in All Star weekend skills competitions at the risk of losing and hurting their brand and jersey sales. In the good old days the only time superstars came together on the same team was when they were past their prime or at the Olympics. In my opinion, this kind of competition breeds excellence. It forces talent to outdo each other and keep raising the bar. In the end, you have great rivalries with multiple competitive teams at the top of the league who can compete for a championship and fans benefit.
Players like Jordan, Bird, Isaiah Thomas, and Magic Johnson had too much self-respect than to join forces to win a ring. I mean, could you see Kobe Bryant leaving L.A. to go win a ring with someone else? Never. Both Lebron and Kobe needed star players around them to win championships, and Lebron is on pace to break Kobe’s career stats, but Kobe did it without leaving to go join someone else’s team to win, especially in the lean years; he stuck it out. There are players that you build around and there are complimentary pieces that you acquire to round out your squad. Kobe would never leave his team to win a ring and lower himself to the level of being a “piece” on someone else’s team. He’s a future Hall of Famer for goodness sake. You could leave your team to join him, but he wasn’t leaving his team to join you.
It’s the same in hip-hop. Back in the 80’s and 90’s you didn’t see a lot of superstars featuring on each others’ tracks like today unless they were homeboys or a part of the same crew or label. Look at a lot of the classic hip-hop albums from the 80’s and 90’s and you’ll see very few sales boosting superstar features. They didn’t need them. Their artistry and talent stood alone. They were icons. Even in pop music, Prince never had Michael Jackson feature on a track and vice versa, especially in their primes. I’m sure they respected each other but it wasn’t something you did as an icon who wanted to be the undisputed top dog. I mean, look how long it took Michael and Janet Jackson to work together and they’re siblings.
But something changed. Similar to basketball, hip-hop has evolved from a game of egos and self-respect to a chummy country club. It’s more about business than the art form and competition. Instead of wanting to outdo the other top artists and set themselves apart as the top dog, rappers will get them to do a feature to boost their album sales and become relevant.
Competition vs. Collaboration
Kevin Durant and Lebron James’ decisions to join with other superstars in their prime to win a ring doesn’t surprise me. I believe it reveals how different this generation is than the one I grew up in. When it comes to entrepreneurship, getting ahead, and achieving their goals, this generation is more about Collaboration than Competition. Today’s talent, whether entrepreneurial, athletic or creative, are less driven by competition and reaching the pinnacle of individual success and more by working together and achieving collective success. Maybe they’re onto something.
The highly competitive 80’s and 90’s produced major icons and, as a result, classic albums, rivalries and moments. Out of that time we got Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Michael Jordan, Tupac, the Notorious BIG, and Bill Cosby. They’re the standard against which we measure all talent. For a long time we were asking, “Who is the next Michael Jordan?” or “Who is the next Michael Jackson?” and people like Dwayne Wade and Usher would pattern their craft after them. But this level of individual success comes with a price. It’s hard work. How many icons have either suffered from substance abuse, mental and emotional breakdowns, or even committed suicide? Maybe individuals were never meant carry that burden of success on their own.
While competition breads icons and classic works of art that will be remembered for generations, collectively we can probably achieve a lot more through collaboration. This is what we’re now learning at SHIFTER Magazine. Collaboration and sharing the burden of success is a lot easier. At first I saw this as taking the easy way out, but maybe this could be a major key to having longevity in your craft.
But deep down I’m still old school. I still don’t agree with Kevin Durant’s decision, but at least I understand it. He’s a product of his generation.