"Durant vs. Westbrook" Takes Center Stage As the Saltiest Rivalry in the NBA
“There’s days when I just want to tackle you and tell you to snap out of it sometimes. But I know there’s days when you want to do the same thing with me. I love you, man. I love you. A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player, and I’m the first to have your back, man, through it all. Just stay the person you are.”
— Kevin Durant to Russell Westbrook while accepting the 2013-2014 NBA MVP Award
Yes, that MVP speech more than two years ago was a seemingly simpler time and place for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, as they sought to attack the NBA together in pursuit of ultimate greatness. Today they seem to hate each other, and as with any good WWE feud, you can now go back, in retrospect, and see the seeds planted for the heel turn.
"There's days when I just want to tackle you....and tell you to snap out of it." Those words feel so much more profound and ominous now after Saturday night, when Durant, who made what many think is the cushiest of decisions by partnering up with a team that won 73 games WITHOUT him last season, brought his talents back to Oklahoma City to take on the franchise and fellow All-Star he spurned last summer.
Golden State won the game 130-114, with Durant scoring 34 points in the process, but the final score was just a backdrop for a fascinating night of interpersonal drama, as the feud between Durant and Westbrook exploded after a six-month boil-over on Saturday night in Durant's return to Chesapeake Energy Arena.
There were chants of "CUPCAKE!" (a Kendrick Perkins special, used for players he deemed "soft," fueled by a Westbrook Instagram post of some holiday cupcakes after Durant made his decision to leave in July) and other choice words.
There were head butts...
Kevin Durant and Andre Roberson get in each other's face pic.twitter.com/cLAAZrzlpD— gifdsports (@gifdsports) February 12, 2017
...and words exchanged between the two main event players...
KD's heel turn is complete after this three pic.twitter.com/jpZicZIgDR— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) February 12, 2017
....in what has become a messy enough divorce to justify ESPN's putting its SportsCenter desk there for an entire day leading up to the game.
It was fantastic theater, with enough hype for me to ask my girlfriend to DVR the game (I was traveling this weekend), and enough buzz for me to actually a) watch it again and b) not delete it afterwards. "DO NOT DELETE" status — the highest of compliments!
Here are a few more thoughts on this game as we head toward the All-Star break this weekend:
1. This weekend's All Star Game should be...interesting.
As if it's not enough that Russell Westbrook will already have his "Crazy-meter" set to "FULL BLAST" with James Harden and Steph Curry both starting the game ahead of him, Russ will presumably also have to share the floor at some point with Durant, WHOM HE CLEARLY HATES. I can't wait.
2. Kevin Durant's mom needs to learn how sports work.
So Durant's mom, Wanda Pratt, was at the game on Saturday night, in an arena where she had been a fixture throughout her son's Thunder career. Apparently, the fans were not all that accommodating toward her:
“I do understand that the fans here loved Kevin, and they never thought that he would leave,” Wanda told USA TODAY Sports. “Unfortunately he did leave, but he left a legacy here that’s undeniable. And so, for the people to act the way that they did – and I understood the boos. OK, that’s kind of superficial, but the name-calling…
“It’s the people who make it so personal, and attack his character so viciously, like they know him – (all) because he decided to play somewhere else. But then, the bold thing is they’re standing in my face. They’re bold enough to call him a snake and a coward. One guy even called him – I can’t even say it – the p-word. In my face.”
See, here's the thing, Wanda — most fans across all sports, for better or worse, barely view your son and his fellow players as actual people. To many, they are characters in a sweaty, athletic drama that they watch play out over six to nine months every year. So when your son decides to partner up with the most hated team in the NBA right now, THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS.
And while I would never encourage or justify calling another person the p-word to his mother's face, the degree to which these people care (and pay for tickets and watch on TV) is the BIGGEST reason that your son is making $26,540,100 this season. Think about it.
3. Mahogany Prime Steakhouse just guaranteed it will never go out of business.
When Durant lived in Oklahoma City, apparently his favorite place to dine after games was a high-end restaurant called the Mahogany Prime Steakhouse. So when Durant knew he was coming back to town this weekend, he tried to rent out the place for his teammates and fellow Golden State employees. Dave Osborn, the proprietor of Mahogany, opted to leave his restaurant open to the public instead:
According to Osborn, the haul would have been between $30,000 to $35,000.
"I thought about it but I said, no I can't do that, because I have Thunder players that come in after games," Osborn said. "Thunder players come in, fans come in, so I just said, 'I can't do that to them. It wouldn't be fair.'"
Osborn made his restaurant an OKC landmark with that decision! By the way, Durant (and some of his teammates) still came into Mahogany after the game, and reportedly sat just a few tables away from Westbrook. I'm disappointed that there were no "steakhouse fight" videos leaked onto Twitter or Snapchat.
4. The 2016-2017 playoff standings are not aligning properly.
As of Sunday morning, here are the NBA standings in the Western Conference:
W L PCT GB
1 Golden State Warriors 46 8 .852 -
2 San Antonio Spurs 41 12 .774 4.5
3 Houston Rockets 40 17 .702 7.5
4 Utah Jazz 34 21 .618 12.5
5 LA Clippers 33 21 .611 13
6 Memphis Grizzlies 33 23 .589 14
7 Oklahoma City Thunder 31 24 .564 15.5
8 Denver Nuggets 24 30 .444 22
As you can see, the basketball gods have made it nearly impossible for us to get a "Durant vs. Westbrook" playoff series, since there is almost no way that a) the Thunder fall to eighth in the Western Conference or b) the Warriors fall to second, barring injuries to Westbrook and Durant, and if either one is injured then what's the point, anyway?
Our best bet for some Russ-driven playoff drama would be for the Thunder to land the No. 6 seed and give us six or seven games of Westbrook vs. Harden. In fact, since those two are the leaders in the clubhouse for the MVP award, let's just dangle that baby over the court like a WWE ladder match and let the winner walk away with the hardware!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.