In a week in which Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was infamously banned for life from the NBA for his recorded racist remarks, one would think it would be difficult to generate a controversial headline that would rival the fiasco in L.A. Well, leave it up to the good people at the Daily Oklahoman – the folks who literally make up the headlines – to stir up the pot right here at home. Though their insulting headline dubbing soon-to-be NBA MVP Kevin Durant “Mr. Unreliable” is arguably less incendiary than the statements made by Mr. Sterling, it may ultimately prove to be just as damning to the foundation of a franchise.
Kevin Durant has been the lifeblood of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the entire history of the franchise. He has won four of the last five scoring titles, the first player to accomplish such a feat since Michael Jordan won seven straight from ’87 to ’93. He has been a perennial All-Star. He has led the Thunder to an NBA Finals appearance and established the team as a perennial power and title contender in the elite Western Conference. He had a streak of 41 25-point games this season that was the third longest in NBA history. The list of his accomplishments is too lengthy for this article, a testament to just how reliable he has been over his stellar career. And at 25 years old, he hasn’t even reached his prime yet. Smart money would be on shutting up and making him feel loved and at home where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain.
Make no mistake about it, if there is one individual whose presence and star power is a primary catalyst for the economic and cultural boost that is taking place in Oklahoma City, it’s Kevin Durant. KD is a once-in-a-lifetime talent and a big ticket draw that has revitalized the city’s economy in more ways than one. KD is bigger than basketball. He is money in the bank to an area that was not long ago devoid of any major professional sports franchise, let alone a winning organization like the Thunder that is capable of drawing celebrities, coveted free agents and thriving businesses alike to the area. His contributions have extended far beyond his accomplishments on the court. He has led humanitarian efforts in the area, most notably in response to the May 2013 tornadoes that devastated Moore, Oklahoma and the surrounding areas. He not only donated considerably to the relief efforts, but he was a physical presence, taking an active role in comforting the families rocked by the devastation. Unlike many professional athletes, especially those with his ability, he has been a character guy on and off the court. He has been in the headlines for all the right reasons.
For some unexplainable, unjustifiable reason, the state’s flagship newspaper decided to name the Most Valuable Player in the world’s premiere professional sports league “Mr. Unreliable.”
The world – not just the city, not the state, not the nation, the entire world – responded with a resounding, flabbergasted “wow.” Even KD’s mom weighed in on the insulting headline:
Typical Oklahoman on Kevin. UNBELIEVABLE!! KEVIN is RELIABLE!!!
— Wanda Pratt (@MamaDurant) May 1, 2014
Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and Ernie Johnson opened their TNT playoff coverage with their outrage at the embarrassing headline. Yes, it was bigger studio fodder than the still fresh Sterling side show. Chuck even stated “when [Durant] leaves, that team is gonna be the damn Cavaliers.” This of course was in reference to the floundering Cleveland NBA franchise laid waste by the departure of LeBron James who infamously took his talents to South Beach after the conclusion of the 2009 season. The TNT analysts even had a little fun with the headline, launching their own call-in contest to determine which of the four studio personalities would be their “Mr. Unreliable.” Shaq won with 47% of the vote. Chuck followed with 37%. Still, the joke was on Oklahoma City. The analysts’ antics only underscored the embarrassing spectacle and painted us as an ungrateful city.
Kevin Durant is not God. He puts his pants on one leg at a time. He has admittedly not had the greatest series against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of this year’s playoffs. Still, “not great” for KD would be considered phenomenal for anyone else. Through five games, he averaged 28 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game, even before responding to his critics at the Daily Oklahoman with a 36 point, 10 rebound effort in Game 6, a 104-84 Thunder victory. He has coexisted with a talented yet sometimes errant point guard in Russell Westbrook, who jacked up 31 shots in Game 5. Even for his aggressive shot selection, one wouldn’t even call Westbrook “Mr. Unreliable.” Why on earth someone would assign the title to Durant completely defies logic, even in a series in which he has struggled, admittedly bothered by the defensive presence of Tony Allen. With one game remaining at home in the series, the Thunder’s playoff hopes remain very much alive.
Daily Oklahoman, take note. When you report the news for a city that is as fortunate as we are to have a gem like Kevin Durant in our midst, you thank God every day for his contribution to our city, you sing his praises when they are warranted, and you tell it like it is when he lays an egg on occasion. But you never, ever ascribe such an erroneous, insulting title to one of precious few people on earth capable of running away with basketball’s individual crown in the King James era, no less, and elevating a city in the process. You call him KD. You call him the MVP. You call him Kid Clutch. On a bad day, he’s just Kevin Durant. But he’s never Mr. Unreliable.
You did well to apologize. Hopefully, for the sake of Oklahoma City, it’s not too late.