Kevin Durant signing with the Washington Wizards always seemed like a long shot to me. While it would have been amazing to witness, it never felt like a realistic outcome of his upcoming free agency.
As a Washington D.C. area native and lifelong sports fan of all local teams, I’ll preface this by saying, “I get it.” I understand that the Washington Wizards are not the most attractive destination for a premier, consensus top-five player in the NBA that is entering the prime of his career.
This is a franchise that has been to the playoffs seven times in the past 37 years. This is a franchise that has not advanced to the conference finals at all during that stretch. This is a franchise that had an ever so brief stint of consecutive playoff appearances and mild success with Gilbert Arenas, only to end with guns being brought in the locker room and one player, Javaris Crittenton, eventually ending up in jail for manslaughter. This is a franchise that chose to pass up on players like Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, and Jimmy Butler to draft the likes of Jan Vesely in the 2011 NBA Draft. Most recently, this is a franchise that traded away literally every draft pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, giving itself absolutely no possible way to grow the franchise from within – relying solely on signing free agents or trading more future picks for players that the team already passed on once (Markieff Morris, also from the 2011 draft).
So don’t sign here. Don’t sign with a broken franchise that has little to no hope of reaching the NBA Finals at this point. I would understand. We, as D.C. fans, would understand.
As disenchanted as we have been as a fanbase with the state of the franchise, many of us actively cheered for Kevin Durant to succeed in Oklahoma City, given his ties to the area. If the Wizards couldn’t bring a title to D.C., at least we could hope that a star from this area could make us feel slightly connected to the feeling of being a winner, even if it was only in our minds. After all, we are talking about a man that has routinely spent months in the area doing charity work, playing pickup basketball games, going to Redskins’ games, and has had a large presence in the area. If there was ever a chance to attract a game-changing, superstar free agent, it would be to bring “KD to DC”. But it’s okay – don’t sign here.
All that said, here is what you don’t do.
You don’t describe the cheers that you receive from thousands of area kids and adults, fans of all ages and backgrounds, as a “disrespectful experience”. If they show you love and admiration, if they spend money on getting customized Wizards’ jerseys with your name on the back, and if they chant for you to come and help save their franchise, you don’t lecture them on who they should support or how they should go about doing it.
“(The January 21 visit) was kind of disrespectful, in my opinion, because you’ve got a great team there already that deserves your full 100 percent support,” Durant said.
This “great team” won’t sniff the doorstep of the NBA Finals without another premier superstar. For all the reasons mentioned earlier, Washington area fans have the right to have zero faith that the currently constructed management team is competent enough to deliver. Durant, of all people, should know that. Yet he ungratefully snubbed his nose at the thousands that cheered and have tried to court him to join their team, be it on Twitter, at the arena, or on the streets.
If you are going to take that approach of putting some of the blame on the fans, and are going to use that as one of the reasons to not want to accept a meeting with the Washington Wizards franchise, then at least be consistent. When fans loudly chanted, “Come to Boston” during the game, Durant didn’t seem to get on a high horse to condemn their actions. In fact, he has graciously approved a meeting with the Boston Celtics’ management to discuss the possibility of joining their franchise. So what was so different between what they did, or what the New York Knicks are doing right now, from what the Washington area fans did?
We live in an era in which everyone is trying to be brand-centric and has gigantic egos that need to be fluffed. Was Durant under the impression that the Wizards fans were going to boo and jeer him, while still hoping he would choose to come to their team? He thought they would boo someone they have seen almost every summer, rubbed elbows with, and considered one of their own? If anything, the right move was to show him the love and show him what it could be like every night if he decided to sign with Washington.
Despite the motives and reasons to not sign with Washington, however trivial or legitimate they may be, there was a much better way to handle the entire situation that would kept D.C. fans from being embarrassed. All Durant needed to do was take a courtesy meeting with Washington’s management, listen to their pitch for a couple of hours and go through the motions. After letting them know that he doesn’t intend to sign with them, a simple tweet or two to the Washington fans saying something like, “Had a nice meeting with the Wizards today. Unfortunately, I won’t be signing with the team but I wish them and their great fans all the best. I’ll always be a D.C. area sports fan,” would have done the trick. That’s all he had to do. That’s Public Relations 101.
Instead, Washington area sports, one of the saddest sports town in the country now that Cleveland has left the cellar, is left looking stupid. If they can’t even get a homegrown superstar to give them a one or two hour meeting to so much as consider the possibility of signing here, how on earth would they ever sign a legitimate superstar in the future?
While they may not be the best fans, as it is a transient town after all, one thing I know is those that truly follow sports in this region are smart, experienced, and loyal fans that have long memories. How Durant chose to go about his decision making, regardless of where he signs, will not be forgotten by many in this area. He has undoubtedly lost many fans because of it.
The next time he comes to Washington D.C. playing for whichever title chasing team whose bandwagon he chooses to jump on, he can be sure of one thing – those boos and jeers that he so desperately wanted? He’ll hear them. They will be loud and plentiful. Deservedly so.
Photo Credits: CBSSports.com, ESPN980.com