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Saturday, January 26th, 2013 at 11:10 am  |  31 responses

Ain’t Nothing Nice

Kevin Durant is taking a villainous turn after his NBA Finals loss to the Heat.

by Ryan ZumMallen / @ryanzummallen

Trust this: You will only have a few opportunities in your life to watch an era-defining athlete, and what Kevin Durant is doing this season is the kind of eye-popping performance that makes oceans roar, makes mountains crumble, and makes you anxious to grow old and have grandkids just so you can tell them that you watched him live.

Durant has always been an obvious superstar, perhaps future hyperstar and eventual supernova. But with his performance through the first 43 games of the season thus far, he’s reached plateaus that we didn’t expect to see for at least a few more years. At this pace, it looks like he’ll clear the 50-40-90 percent shooting bar. Easily. No one does this easily—and in a Scott Brooks’ offense, no less! This is like easily walking on the moon, or winning the Indianapolis 500 on foot.

Yet here Durant is, pulling up from anywhere on the floor and embarrassing defenders with his improved handles before feeding them dunkburgers with cheese. It’s sinister, is what it is. Maybe even mean. And I wouldn’t call myself a psychic—more like a soothsayer or something—but I did predict Durant taking a villainous turn after his NBA Finals loss to the Heat last June. You could see it in his eyes; not disappointment for the loss, but thirst for revenge. I wrote last at the time: “…the thought of a scorned Thunder team out for blood sounds like the best thing to ever happen to the NBA.” Sure enough, it’s happened, and it’s even better than I expected.

“So now I’m down for whatever / Ain’t nothing nice,” Jay-Z rapped in D’Evils off his debut album. I’m not sure if the phrase originated from Hova, but it belongs to Kevin Durant now. The #KDISNOTNICE meme launched by Nike in December is totally accurate, culturally appropriate and, most importantly, perfectly timed. Durant can dunk on Lamar Odom on Tuesday and Twitter posts him dunking on a baby seal by Wednesday morning. It’s immediate, crowd-sourced advertising, and it’s perfect.

That tagline wouldn’t have worked with Durant last season, however, when he too often deferred to teammates and told reporters, “I don’t feel like a superstar.” But this season, there are no illusions—the Thunder isn’t his team; the NBA is his League. Of course, a certain King James stands ready to defend his crown, but this time he’ll run into a challenger hardened by loss and motivated by revenge. And he will not be nice.

*

The funny thing about the #KDISNOTNICE meme is that it has two meanings. Durant is not nice to defenders, to the rim, and to the record books this season. The League’s leading scorer, he is the only player in the top 10 who has more points than field-goal attempts in every single game this season. Read that back one more time. It’s an incredible feat; no one goes a whole season without a night of fewer points than shots. In fact, Kobe Bryant has done it three times. In the last seven days.

The second meaning is, of course, the literal one. Durant has not been very nice this season. The quintessential humble superstar has all of a sudden tied for third place in the NBA for technical fouls, with seven in 43 games. This is by far the most in his career—last season he had only six techs in 66 games. Averaged out, Durant is getting a technical foul called on him almost twice as often as he did last season. He had seven technical fouls in his first three seasons combined! That’s seven technical fouls in 43 games this year, and seven technical fouls those first 234 games. I’m not advocating for arguing with the referees, but hey, whatever works. Dude is not nice.

Bet you didn’t notice that, though, because his play has been so good it’s already made people forget about the James Harden trade. The way Durant is playing right now, it may end with us forgetting about the entire League as he hoists the Larry O’Brien trophy this summer.

*

There’s a new gallery at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that I’m dying to see, paying tribute to the obsessive works of the late director Stanely Kubrick. His was a dedication so great that he literally drove his actors and crew to madness. While filming The Shining, he set a Guinness record for most takes of a single scene (127). One scene took only three takes, but nine days to arrange and, including planning, more than a year from concept to wrap.

This is not simply perfectionism; it’s maniacal. It’s destructive and abusive. Kubrick spent decades on a movie about Napoleon that he never finished, and made 70-year-old Scatman Crothers cry on set. But films like A Clockwork Orange, The Shining and Full Metal Jacket are some of the deepest and most jarring movies in history. In short, his methods worked, and it wouldn’t have been possible without his innate hyper-obsessiveness. His movies needed that level of crazy.

Last year, I never said that Kevin Durant couldn’t win if he continued being nice, but I did suggest that a little attitude couldn’t hurt with a nearly flawless offensive repertoire, it was literally the only thing missing from his game. The only possible thing he could do to improve was light a fire from within. The kind that would drive a person to change his entire demeanor, or demand an exhausted actress to swing a baseball bat more than 120 times.

Durant has always been self-driven, and this type of maniacal focus may have always been inside him, but it took the pain of watching the Heat hoist his trophy last June to yank it out of him. You may be talented, you may be motivated. But that mild insanity can be the difference between shooting 10 takes or 50 takes. It can be the difference between a scoring title, and an NBA title.

We’re watching Kevin Durant teach a graduate course in channeling your anger into motivation. It may not be nice, but damn if it isn’t inspiring. Pay attention. Your grandkids will be thrilled to hear about this one day.

Ryan ZumMallen is a sportswriter in Long Beach, CA. You can find him on Twitter at @ryanzummallen.

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  • burnt_chicken

    Amen. Great read.

  • The Seed

    This is the Fire I was talking about KD did not have against his best friend in the NBA Finals. If KD plays like this, Heat and Bron do not get his first title. KD let Bron off the hook this year. He knows it now. KD and OKC should win it all this year. Good job KD!!!

  • Lorne

    False. KD was the leading scorer of the entire series and was shooting over 50%. You have no tangible proof that they would’ve beaten the Heat last year. Miami didn’t beat them in 7. They beat them in five, and handily so in the last game. Between a couple of bonehead Westbrook plays and Harden’s no-show, it was those two that lost OKC the series.

    This year I see a close 7 game series between the two teams. Ultimately it will come down to Westbrook and Bosh being the deciding factors. Wade steps up in the playoffs, and we Know KD and Bron will be at their best.

  • TBRK

    not feeling this whole cliche ‘villain’ label we try to put on guys as if becoming an ice-cold ‘villain’ is what makes a great player. There is nothing ‘angry’ about his game WHATSOEVER, KD is being VERY nice actually…. he’s averaging a career high in assists, and fewest shot attempts per game since his rookie year. Dude just went in the off-season and became the best basketball player on the planet…the very best shooter, one of the best ball handlers, a incredibly improved passer and facilitator, and doing everything with an unmatched and unprecedented level of efficiency….lets talk about this why don’t we!? lets talk about the work he’s put in during the off-season to make these leaps and bounds and attribute this to his game…Oh no because its easier to push the cliche button.

  • TBRK

    ….also the Jay-Z record you meant to quote was ‘Where I’m From’

  • http://twitter.com/RyanZumMallen Ryan ZumMallen

    The phrase “Ain’t nothing nice” is in both songs.

  • TBRK

    thinkin on it now, the whole Nike viral campaigns of ‘#CountOnKobe’ and ‘#KDIsNotNice’, have to be some of the most ill-fitting and ill-timed Nike ad campaigns…..almost as bad as the Kobevs.Lebrons that kept running throughout the 09 playoffs lol

  • z

    I dunno about him being the best player on the planet, he hasn’t knocked Bron out the top spot yet, but co-sign everything else you just said. Jordan has everyone believing you have to be a jerk in order to be great. It’s simply not true. KD is far from a selfish player. That’s not exactly villainous. His public persona hasn’t changed. He’s simply a more efficient, polished player.

  • Beastofdeast

    I don’t know about you but if you check NBA ranking for MVP, Durant is number 1 and going up. Plus OKC have the best record in the NBA right now.

  • z

    MVP does not mean someone is the best player in the league. Was Rose the best player in the league when he won? What about back-to-back MVP Nash? Nowitzki? You know better than that. OKC is the best team in the league. I’m not disputing that. But Bron is still the best player.

  • The Seed

    Dude KD was quiet in the 4th and did not play with any Fire, go rewatch the NBA Finals. Westbrook was balling with fire, KD needed to step up. Why you think the NIke Campaign is now. Also KD stats were fine, but his game was lackluster. I would rather KD come out balling, but people forget, Westbrook is the leader of OKC. KD has stated that, so please KD lost the NBA finals. THe most emotion from KD came from him crying on his mom shoulders. He needs to man UP. He is playing with FIRE now and playing a better all around game.

  • ByAnyMeansNecessary

    I laugh at everyone who took issue with KD training for a day with LeBron this past summer acting like it was going to hurt him. I also laugh at everyone who still says that KD somehow didn’t really show up in the Finals. You’re out of your mind or you didn’t watch any of the games if you think that he played scared for one second. He just got beat by a better player and a better team. No one was going to beat LeBron last season. Period.

  • Lorne

    You didn’t watch the Finals. I’m convinced. This “fire” you speak of is purely subjective and you don’t really have anything to back up your statement. You really are just speaking more to how Lebron and the Heat role players such as Chalmers stepped up. Clearly they were playing so well together that you didn’t notice KD being the only consistent player for his team. Westbrook is passionate, but do not mistake that for him being the leader of the team. That title will always belong to KD. He kept them in that series.

  • kd

    Kd average 30 on 55% shootin in the finals! Dont blame him for losing the finals. James harden didnt show up n when that happens with westbrook jackin up shots durant is on his own carryin this team against the big 3. Kevin martin will do a better job with ibaka improved offensive gamr nd thabo sefolosha improved defense n knock down 3s. So it gonn be the improved thunder vs the same heats

  • King David

    Beautiful article, with all the Lebron pollution in the NBA of stars hopping to other stars teams in big markets, Kevin Durant n Derrick Rose are a breath of fresh air!!!!!

  • danpowers

    amen

  • The Seed

    KD has stated himself he did not give it all in the NBA Finals, Go research cats. Yall making excuses for KD, but he did not go at BRon. Bron was challenge against Dallas, OKC allowed him to feel friendly with them. Bron played KD one on one in summer workouts, go reasearch, KD weighs the amount of a 5’9 girl, Bron learned him go to moves, KD learned nothing on Bron, because he just drops his head and drives to the baskets. KD has more to lose working out with Bron.

  • z

    I guess that’s why he’s yet again the league’s leading scorer, in contention for his first MVP. Not to mention he’s the leader of the best team in the league. Gee, working out with Lebron nearly killed KD’s career. You’re right.

  • pposse

    Rose was the best player in the L in 2010..only person who had a case of being better was lebron

  • z

    Um, no and only a Rose/Bulls fan would argue that. Rose was the Anti-Lebron lottery winner. Were it not for Lebron being the most hated athlete on the planet, Rose wouldn’t even have won MVP.

    Rose: 44% fg, 32% 3pt, 85%ft, 4.1rpg, 7.7apg, 25ppg,

    Lebron: 51% fg, 33% 3pt, 75% ft, 7.5 rpg, 7.0 apg, 26.7ppg

    Lebron was also a better defender. Not to mention, Rose is a pg and he only averaged .7 less assists than Rose. Basically Rose was only decidedly better at free throw shooting.

  • pposse

    you forget the main stat..Winning.

    Besides Lebron, NO ONE was even arguably better than Rose in 2010.

  • pposse

    if u take away the 3pt %, apg, and ppg (since they are basically a wash, .7 apg is about equal to 1.7 ppg difference)…you have a guy in Lebron who shoots better from the field and gets 3.5rebounds more than a guy in Derrick Rose who shoots a better ft%.

    That tells me that although Lebron shoots better, D Rose is more reliable due to his ft%..so basically you have a guy in Lebron who just rebounds better than D Rose (obviously cause he is taller).

  • z

    Whaaat? That literally made no sense. No, Rose isn’t more reliable. Your proof is ft shooting? Westbrook, Mayo, Gay, Deng, and a host of other forwards and guards have better ft% than Lebron. Does that make them more reliable?

    Rose isn’t nearly the defender Lebron is either. He’s not even the best defender amongst pgs in the league, but I noticed you never even addressed that.

    Lebron doesn’t rebound better simply because he’s bigger. Rondo is a slightly better rebounder than Rose and he’s at least two inches shorter. Jason Kidd was a better rebounder as well, and he’s Rose’s size.

    You do realize that Rose doesn’t even do the one thing better than Lebron that he’s supposed to according to position, right? Yes, Lebron is a better pg than Rose and he’s a forward. He’s a better shooter and scorer, which makes him a better offensive player period. Add to the fact that Rose isn’t in his league defensively and you have no real argument for saying Lebron was only slightly better.

  • z

    True. His team had a better record during the regular season. That didn’t make Rose the better player. That same core was able to maintain a decent record when he was out with injuries as well. So what are you really saying?

  • ewgenik

    test

  • pposse

    If you want to talk about defense, then maybe we can talk about how anytime a marquee pg plays against d rose, their stats are inferior to their normal stats, plus they and their team loses..but d rose’s defense is horrid?!
    D Rose bought into the team defensive system of Thibs, his main job when guarding the ball is to force passes to the right or left wing and not get any middle penetration. He does a fantastic job of that, the Bulls are the best defensive team in the league right? To write off his defense is unfair, so what he doesn’t pick pockets like CP3, he never reaches, his job is to stay in between his man and the basket which he does. What about in the crunch when it counts, how many times have pg’s made plays for themselves against d rose in the crunch? I remember him as a rookie blocking rajon rondo in the playoffs at the buzzer, and ive seen him do the same to many other pg’s tryin to test him.

    I always said this about the Cavs teams that Lebron was on; Lebron gave the rest of his team ‘Lebron-fidence’ the same can be said about D Rose and the mental edge his contributes for his team…you can’t see it but we all know its there. If you follow the Bulls they almost always say something along the lines of ‘we can win, we have our MVP and our defense’ – he makes other players better mentally, whether it shows with their stats or how hard they play. D Rose and Lebron were easily the 2 best players in 2010, and then there was everyone else…

  • pposse

    Our bigs rebounds, thats not D Rose responsibility…jason kidd might be the best rebounding pg ever…i addressed the defense in the post below, and when i mean reliable, i meant that he is strictly more reliable from the ft line (nothing more), and since they get there around the same amount of times per game it helps negate/counteract the fg% discrepancy a little bit.

  • http://twitter.com/Sesa_Opas Hot Brain

    Different definition of villain nowadays…

  • z

    I didn’t say he was bad, I said he wasn’t in Lebron’s league, which is true.

    I’m not arguing that Rose isn’t a good player. My point was that it’s simply untrue to say he was the best player in ’10-’11 season. One could also make a case for Wade or Kobe as well. Rose wasn’t the best player overall, and he wasn’t even the best player statistically. He was MVP. There is a difference between that and best player.

  • pposse

    so it comes down to this…your basically saying (and this is paraphrasing ofcourse), “there is Lebron James, and then there is everybody else” while I am saying “There is Lebron James and D Rose, …and then there is everybody else”

  • z

    Yup. In terms of who was the best player in the league that year, that’s exactly what I’m saying. MVP was more of a competition than best player status, obviously.

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