Durant and Westbtook - A Shakespearean Tragedy
By now, every basketball fan knows what the biggest story of the NBA offseason was.
For those of you who may have missed it, Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder via free agency to join the Golden State Warriors after losing to, you guessed it, those same Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. What made it worse was that Oklahoma City had a 3-1 lead in the series but eventually folded and coughed it up, losing in seven games. Ironically, the Warriors themselves gave up a 3-1 series lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. However, we aren't here to talk about the Cleveland Cavaliers.
What would have, could have, and should have been multiple appearances in the NBA Finals and perhaps a championship or two for Oklahoma City, ended in tragedy. What started off as a franchise rich in young, talented players such as Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka, has now become a one-man-show in Russell Westbrook.
I first read William Shakespeare's work in literature class when I was in Junior High School. I only read two of his plays actually, Macbeth and Romeo & Juliet. For some reason, they have stuck in my head all this time.
These plays are examples of Shakespearean tragedy. Usually in a tragedy the main character, or characters, are of high status (Durant and Westbrook are of NBA royalty; two of the top five players in the league) and how their social/political structures are destroyed (think of this as their time together in Oklahoma City). Another element to a Shakespearean tragedy is a concept known as “star crossed”. This means that things weren't meant to be or fail due to fate. Romeo and Juliet tried everything in their power to be together but thanks to their feuding families, fate wasn't too kind to them. Durant and Westbrook fought through a lot together - season ending injuries, heartbreaking losses (including this past Western Conference Finals) - and eventually this would split the dynamic duo with no championship to show for it.
But the most important element of Shakespearean tragedies is that the characters of the play are fundamentally flawed, which ultimately leads to their downfall.
Rumors of bickering began early on in their basketball relationship. Their abilities never really gelled and they couldn’t seem to come together. It always seemed as though there was a clash in style and personality, both on and off the court. It looked like Durant never wanted to step on Westbrook's toes and take over games as the Thunder’s alpha dog. In Westbrook’s case, he didn't care who was in the way, he was always going to be the aggressor and in many cases, he was too aggressive which took away his teammates' ability to contribute.
During the 2013/2014 season while Westbrook was recovering from a knee injury, Durant started to behave more like the team leader and won that year’s Most Valuable Player award. He managed to bring out the best in his teammates which made the team play better as a unit. Then the following year the tables were turned. Kevin Durant was forced to sit out the majority of the 2014/2015 season with a foot injury, and although Westbrook had big numbers and triple doubles, Oklahoma City missed the playoffs. It was a one man band, and Westbrook was not able to help his teammates shine.
Their former Thunder teammate, Kendrick Perkins, said it best: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook never valued each other on the basketball court and when they look back on the missed opportunities years from now, they will regret it. This tandem should have won at least one championship and their best chance was perhaps last season. If Oklahoma City beats the Warriors in the Western Conference, and then go on to beat the Cavaliers in the Finals, Durant stays, Westbrook likely signs an extension, and maybe a dynasty is born. But, alas, fate intervened.
As it stands, Oklahoma City lost and they are now facing a transition with their new leading man, Russell Westbrook. It was always thought around basketball circles that Durant would be the one to stay in Oklahoma and Westbrook would leave to be the franchise player on his own team. Old school basketball fans loved the fact Westbrook stayed in Oklahoma City and hated Durant's decision to join a team in Golden State that didn't really need the added fire power. The Warriors had won a championship in 2015 and last year put together a record-breaking 73 win regular season.
The semantics of their decisions is a story to tackle somewhere down the line. The fact is that we may never see another incredible duo like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the NBA. Oklahoma City may have lost their franchise player, but we as a basketball community all lose out on seeing these two marquee players reach that basketball majesty.