On the surface, “The Decision” circa 2010 and “The Decision” 2016 seem eerily similar. A young, incredibly talented superstar decides to leave the franchise to which he was drafted and join forces with other superstars in the hopes of attaining his first championship ring. Identical, right? Those in defense of Durant’s move seem to use James as a precedent. “Well LeBron did the same thing, and it was good for him.” Look at it more closely, though, and one thing is for sure: These two decisions are distinctly different.
Let’s take it back to 2010. The basketball world on the edge of its seat, glued to the television as LeBron James sat, stoically, waiting to make his much anticipated announcement. That day, 13 million people witnessed what we know now as “The Decision”. In a grand, theatrical display as only LeBron can command, James let the public know of his decision to leave Cleveland and take his talents to South Beach, joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, thereby forming a superteam like no other. We all know how that story ended. Two rings and thousands of prematurely burnt jerseys later, James returned to his hometown like a prodigal son.
This time, there was no grandeur or spectacle for LeBron, just a simple article with a title that said it all: “I’m Coming Home”. The city welcomed him with open arms, and the general consensus was that the move to Miami was beneficial, essential even, to James’ legacy. Fast forward to 2016; the prodigal son has made the most of his return. In heroic fashion, James has finally brought a title to his native land. His stint with the Heat is a thing of the past, and a new superstar’s choice dominates the headlines. Kevin Durant, one of the “founding fathers” of the Oklahoma City Thunder, has chosen to move on and join forces with Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
One fundamental difference between 2010 and 2016 lies in the teams that the two left to join. James left for the Heat, a team that, although competitive in the Eastern Conference, was a far cry from a title contender or rival of the Cavaliers. Durant, on the other hand, left the Thunder for the very team that brought about his demise this past season. Imagine the scrutiny LeBron James would have faced if he left Cleveland for his arch rivals in Boston. The Warriors staged an epic comeback against KD and the Thunder in the Conference Finals, too, it was no ordinary series. We as fans assumed there would be a hunger within the Thunder players, a chip on their shoulder heading into next year knowing they were just minutes away from a berth in the Finals, up 3-1 on the defending champs. We as fans thought that this was the beginning of the next great rivalry, not the start of an unraveling in OKC.
Next, the supporting cast. Even though they won 61 games, it was grossly unfair to criticize James for leaving the group he was with in Cleveland. His Russell Westbrook was Mo Williams. His Steven Adams was Big Z or Anderson Varejao, or perhaps a shell-of-himself Shaq or a 33 year old Antawn Jamison. Durant had all the pieces in place to get a title. A young, phenomenal supporting cast coming off a trip to the Western Conference Finals, with Magic star Victor Oladipo and #11 overall pick Domantas Sabonis added in the offseason. In essence, KD left the second best team in the West for what was already one of the best teams of all time.
Of course, Kevin Durant is completely free to make his own decision. It’s his career, and he was a free agent. He was free to do whatever he wanted. But to say that Durant did the same thing LeBron did is ridiculous. Just look at what Durant leaves behind vs. what LeBron was leaving behind at the time. Look at where Durant is going vs. where James went. There has been no team in the Thunder’s short history without the name Kevin Durant on the roster. Durant is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Say what you want, but if you ask me, after what happened in those conference finals Durant owes it to the people of Oklahoma City, to his front office, to his teammates to give it one last chance. He has all the makings of a Finals winning team right in OKC. But he won’t give it one last chance. Now, we get to see Russell Westbrook on his own, with all the shots in the world at his disposal. More importantly though, we get to watch and see if “The Decision” 2016 bears the same fruit that James reaped down on the beautiful shores of South Beach.