On Kevin Durant’s Decision to Leave the OKC Thunder: Did Oklahoma Politics and Society Play a Role?

I rarely watch or follow professional basketball, but Kevin Durant’s decision to leave the OKC Thunder caught my attention. I expected pandemonium to break out in Oklahoma—and to no one’s surprise, fans erupted with disappointment, heartbreak, and disgust. They uploaded videos of themselves burning (and shooting in at least one case) Durant’s jersey, and journalists wrote articles in response to his announcement.[i] The commentary and reactions made me think more about Durant’s decision. Does his departure reflect the disparaging atmosphere in Oklahoma more than simply wanting to win an NBA championship?

In his article, Berry Tramel wrote, “Kevin Durant isn’t the man we thought he was…We thought Durant was emotionally invested in the Thunder, if not the entire city and state…” Tramel also called Durant “a typical Millenial.”[ii] Say what you want about the Millenial generation, but I think other factors played a role in Durant’s departure.

Since I moved to Oklahoma in August 2010, I have watched the state struggle. The over reliance on the energy industry left the state with an expansive budget hole. As the state legislature and officials tried to restructure the budget, the average middle and lower-class citizens began to suffer. Primary, secondary, and higher education all face strenuous budget cuts this upcoming academic year and in the future. Teachers have left Oklahoma to find jobs elsewhere. The state government officials also reduced the financial support for medical services. Numerous legislators have tried to make abortions illegal and strip away the rights of the LGBTQ community by declaring these rights attacks on religious freedom.

Yet, unsurprisingly, people appeared to care more about Kevin Durant possible leaving than the worst education system in the nation, the failing economy, and the attempts to take civil rights away from people. Governor Mary Fallin even offered him a cabinet position in an attempt to lure him into staying.[iii] The Thunder serves as an easy distraction to the many issues facing Oklahoma and not having Durant on the team might decrease the success, which in turn might bring more attention to those problems.

During his time in Oklahoma, Durant performed countless philanthropic deeds. He donated money and his services to people who needed it. One might say it seems he cared more about the welfare of the state than its own legislative body.

Durant penned an article for The Players Tribune to announce his decision and explain his reasoning. He wrote,

The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player – as that has always steered me in the right direction. But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth.[iv]

As I read his article, the phrases, which I bolded, stood out in my mind. Did Oklahoma’s disparaging political, economic, and social status partially influence his decision to leave?

In her article, “OKC Thunder: Kevin Durant’s Departure Has Been a Major Blow to General Manager Sam Presti,” Jenni Carlson reported about the treatment Durant received from Presti before and during the player’s career with the Thunder. The article alludes that Presti—in a way—shelters the Thunder players from society at large by “[giving] treatment that is better than anywhere else” with the so-called Thunder Way. Carlson likely meant with this statement that the players receive better treatment with the Thunder than they might with any other team; however, they almost assuredly receive better support than most Oklahomans. It begs the question – how much can he continue to grow personally in a state that struggles to effectively provide for its citizens, but treats its upper class with the utmost care?[v]

Kevin Durant left the OKC Thunder to better himself not only as a player, but also as a human being. People focus on Durant seemingly wanting to solely win a championship “[through] an unnecessary shortcut” because he joined “a team that just won 73 games and just played in the last two NBA Finals.”[vi] By leaving Oklahoma, Durant disappointed thousands of fans and he understood this consequence. Sure, he left an unfinished legacy when he decided to not lead the Thunder to any more NBA Finals, but might living in a more progressive state be a more appealing option than living in a place where racism, homophobia, and xenophobia thrive more than in other locations?


[i] Shaun King, “In Oklahoma, Angry White Men With Assault Rifles Simulate a Brutal Lynching of Kevin Durant,” New York Daily News, July 5, 2016, http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/basketball/king-white-men-assault-rifles-simulate-lynching-durant-article-1.2699588.

[ii] Berry Tramel, “OKC Thunder: Kevin Durant isn’t Who We Thought He Was, and That’s Our Fault,” The Oklahoman, July 6, 2016, http://newsok.com/article/5508240.

[iii] “Kevin Durant has an Offer…From Gov. Mary Fallin,” Tulsa World, June 12, 2016, http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/government/kevin-durant-has-an-offer-from-gov-mary-fallin/article_74bd15ec-45ff-57d6-b0f4-8458e45e8b4c.html.

[iv] Kevin Durant, “My Next Chapter,” The Players Tribune, July 4, 2016, http://www.theplayerstribune.com/kevin-durant-nba-free-agency-announcement/.

[v] Jenni Carlson, “OKC Thunder: Kevin Durant’s Departure Has Been a Major Blow to General Manager Sam Presti,” The Oklahoman, July 6, 2016, http://newsok.com/article/5508398.

[vi] Darnell Mayberry, “Charles Barkley: ‘Kevin Durant Trying to Cheat His Way to a Championship,” NewsOK Blogs, July 6, 2016, http://newsok.com/article/5508330; Reggie Miller, “Kevin Durant Traded a Sacred Legacy for Cheap Jewelry,” Bleacher Report, July 6, 2016, http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2650244-reggie-miller-kevin-durant-traded-a-sacred-legacy-for-cheap-jewelry?_ts=1467825227.


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