"That's Cute": Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook's "Feud" Continues

Why can't a nice quote about teammates just be a nice quote about teammates?

by Mike Vorkunov
Oct 13 2016, 7:04pm

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

"It felt like it was a perfect fit. It was something I was searching for when I sat down and talked to these guys. I wanted to see if what I've heard and what I've seen on the outside is really true. Do these guys really genuinely love each other? They work together. You hear family a lot. That's just a word sometimes, but this is really a lifestyle here. You can feel it when you walk in the door, in the practice facility, everybody is just together. That's something that I can appreciate as a basketball player and someone who values relationships. You can tell that that's what they stand on, that's what we stand on. I feel really grateful to play for a team like that and play with a bunch of players who are selfless and enjoy the game in its purest form."

That is the quote that set off the latest Twitterstorm around the NBA. It was uttered by Kevin Durant Wednesday at a Stanford University conference to explain why he chose the Warriors. Most of it is pretty banal. There's the usual athlete cliché of love and team and family and you just kind of doze off somewhere in there. This is not to say that Durant doesn't actually feel and believe what he's talking about, but it's also nothing extraordinary or headline-worthy.

Yet, that's what it became. Reporters have latched on to the end of that quote, where he called his new teammates "selfless." This, of course, was interpreted to be in direct opposition to Durant's former teammates in Oklahoma City. It's not a completely illogical line of reasoning. If "a bunch of players who are selfless" is what attracted him to Golden State, then perhaps it's what he was missing with the Thunder. It's also speculative. Nothing in the quote explicitly disparages the Thunder (and since this is how the information gets put through the prism, it's not talking about Russell Westbrook, either).

Needless to say, though, these words were relayed to Westbrook back in OKC. You can watch his whole response. His facial expressions and tone kind of capture his annoyance more so than his words, but here is the most salacious part:

"That's cute, man," Westbrook says. "That's cute. My job is to be able to worry about what's going on here. We're gonna worry about all the selfish guys we got over here, apparently. So we gonna figure that out."

You can understand his frustration. Westbrook says he won't answer any more of these Durant questions for the rest of the year. Considering his snippy relationship with the media, it's even possible he sticks to that, but it's unlikely. You can see that it's already eating at him. Athletes hate few things more than being viewed in a context relative to someone else.

The bigger question is whether the media are going to do this all year long. Durant will say many kind things about the Warriors going forward. Hell, if they go 98-0, as they're predicted to, he'll be drunk on compliments by June. Anthony Slater, the Warriors beat writer for the Bay Area News Group and former Thunder beat writer for The Oklahoman until this summer, tweeted an important point about Durant's rhetoric at large: "He's always positive in interviews—about players, opponents, whoever. Now when he praises GSW, taken as shot at OKC."

Durant is in an inescapable position. He can't not fête his new teammates, even if his every word will be taken as innuendo about his old team. That's not to say he won't rip someone eventually—who knows, maybe Durant goes on a hate-bender—but until then, it might be wise to just take his words at face value.

We're all complicit in the Sports Twitter and Blog Industrial Complex. It's not even about producing hot takes, it's about inferences and implications and projections. Or it's just part of being basketball fans and consumers—sports is year-long theater and it demands conflict that escapes the court.

Still, we can step back every once in a while after reading or hearing a quote, and realize that, man, Durant was just saying something nice about his teammates.