Thompson: Kevin Durant Makes Warriors Most Hated Team in League
After winning the Kevin Durant sweepstakes, the Warriors have the kind of talent to become one of the greatest teams of all time. Dare we say “light years” ahead of the competition?
They are already the first to have the last two MVPs together, with Durant having won the award before Stephen Curry took the next two. The Warriors now have four players from the latest All-NBA teams, including Draymond Green and Klay Thompson on the second team.
But in order to maximize their unheralded potential, the Warriors will have to manage their new reality: they will be one of the most hated teams in the NBA.
They need to embrace it.
Oh, you thought they were villains last year? Watch the exponential increase in venom thrown their way this year. Durant jerseys are already ablaze in Oklahoma City.
There is a natural balance to these things in normal circumstances. The more a sports figure is beloved, the more inevitable it is a contingent of haters will arrive. But the Warriors getting Durant is like a millionaire winning the lottery. The rich getting richer, and that will turn the vitriol up for sure.
So here is the early question about these supercharged Warriors: can they handle the black hat?
Not that long ago, the Warriors were the epitome of lovable. A bunch of nice-guy underdogs who had obvious fun and played an entertaining style of basketball. Those days were clearly over after they won a championship, followed by their chase for 73 turning them into one of the most hyped teams ever.
CEO Joe Lacob’s comments about the Warriors being “light years” ahead of the NBA gave credence to the anti-Warriors crowd’s bemoans of arrogance. People grew weary of the Warriors and their rampant love. The once-cute, inspirational, play-the-game-the-right-way squad that brought beauty back to basketball officially became antagonists.
That was never more evident when the Warriors choked away a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. It was hard to tell if some were more happy about the Warriors’ demise or impressed by the Cavaliers’ impressive feat.
Now, the Warriors add one of the league’s top players to the mix. They have arguably the two best players in the league not named LeBron James. The Warriors are going to be received with the affection of Darth Vader -- after a video leak of him kicking a poodle.
Can you imagine the jeering that will happen when the Warriors and Durant return to Oklahoma City?
The hatred was already epic in Cleveland during the Finals. Just ask the family members of Warriors players who made the trip. San Antonio will shower the Warriors in fury. Houston fans have even more reason to despise the Warriors, who knocked their Rockets out of the last two postseasons.
Portland fans will have a special beef after the Warriors eliminated the Blazers. Dallas, who can’t get a top free agent to save Mark Cuban’s life and still remembers “We Believe,” will unleash their jealous rage.
And when they go play the Clippers ... well, the Warriors fans usually take over Staples, so nevermind.
But winning for the Warriors will require growing comfortable in hostility. They can’t be the team to fall apart on the road as they did multiple times in the playoffs. Because those environments -- like it was in Oklahoma City in Games 3 and 4, and Cleveland in Game 3 and 6 -- will be closer to the norm. They will need to take a special joy in silencing those crowds, like in Game 6 at OKC and Game 3 in Cleveland.
Few NBA teams have received the kind of backlash the Warriors will. The Heat had to deal with this when LeBron James teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Who else has such a large jeer section? Probably have to go back to ’90s for great Bulls teams and the Bad Boy Pistons. But the NBA wasn’t big enough then, nor the coverage multifaceted enough, for the dislike to spread like a contagion.
The disdain for these Warriors might eclipse that of The Heatles -- especially since we are even further along in the age of social media, where vitriol and bullying spread like wildfire, and Hot Take Jakes all over the airwaves. Nuance, context and understanding have been drowned out. There is only Warriors love and Warriors hate.
And the hate will be relentless. With that hate comes weighty pressure. Now, the Warriors’ success or failure is national discourse, and not just in sports. Any issues, on and off the court, is now breaking news. Every loss is an I-told-you-so moment for their critics. Falling short of a title is an indictment on them as players.
Can they handle it?
Green, as we know, loves being the villain. This may not be readily apparent, but coach Steve Kerr loves, it too.
Curry rose to MVP status with a love of silencing his skeptics, but these past playoffs were his first as powerful villain, which is much different from underdog. Durant, being on the receiving end of collective anger will be new.
But their team needs to embrace it, play well with it. Many teams borrow an us-against-the-world mentality. The Warriors need to master it.
Certainly, the Dub Nation will grow, and current members are more fervent in their fandom now that Durant has joined their ranks. That love is what they will return home to. First, they’ll have to go shut up a gazillion haters.
This is their life now.