It’s over. The 2016 NBA season, which is only three weeks old, should be officially declared dead.
The idea of competitive basketball itself has been on life support for almost three months, ever since last season’s contentious NBA Finals: Kevin Durant swiftly smothered competitive basketball when he decided to sign with the Golden State Warriors, only sixteen days after their game 7 loss in the finals. As a result, Durant’s decision ended a pivotal era of basketball.
At least this is what the mainstream media would lead you to believe. They have developed an annoying habit for hyperbole, whether talking about sports or business and technology — the unfortunate product of the media’s efforts to maximize traffic.
The media’s treatment of Durant was vitriolic, but despite this treatment, Durant’s decision was the clear and right choice. It was a well thought out execution of free market principles or, in sports vernacular, ‘free agency’ — albeit free agency with strict salary cap restrictions.
Durant even offered the courtesy of a 350-word open letter explaining his choice to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder, in which he explained: “The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth — 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.”
Durant’s offseason move was motivated by more than just a desire to play alongside his friends. His choice reflected the ever-present role of finance and capitalism in professional sports. Durant plays in an era when star professional athletes are faced with similar types of decisions as Chief Executive Officers (CEO) of multinational corporations, and they are often spoken of in the same way by the media.
While being a part of a larger team and organization at Golden State, Durant still maintains the primary responsibility as the CEO of his own brand. Durant, his agents, his financial advisors, and the rest of his crew are responsible for making decisions that better his brand. Off the court, Durant is a walking endorsement for Nike, Beats By Dre, American Family Insurance, BBVA, Sonic, and Panini. He takes home an estimated $36 million a year in endorsements, all of which are linked to his on-court presence and performance.
Durant’s decision to join Golden State is similar to a financial merger. Teaming up with Stephen Curry, he’s playing alongside a fellow multi-brand ambassador and reigning two-time MVP on arguably the best organization in all of professional sports.
In many ways Durant is comparable to Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!. Mayer and Durant made high-impact career decisions; they both left their respective organizations behind for another, and they both received a stream of media backlash for their choices.
Formerly a Stanford prodigy and an executive at Google, Mayer was tasked with the nearly impossible job of saving Yahoo! when she was hired as the CEO in 2012. She’s known around the world as the de facto face of female CEOs.
Despite the effort and focus she puts into her work, Mayer is regularly lambasted by the media for Yahoo!’s failures under her tenure. Her name is the subject of headlines like, “The Pregnant CEO: Should You Hate Marissa Mayer,” “Marissa Mayer spends money like Marie Antoinette,” and “Off with her head? The last days of Marissa Mayer, as investors increase pressure on Yahoo CEO to step down.”
The negative discourse surrounding Mayer is emblematic of the way today’s media vehemently ridicules the failures of society’s exceptional individuals, a cruel fate Durant will endure if he fails in his less than impossible task — winning an NBA championship with the Warriors.
Big business and its marriage to the NBA goes far beyond the obvious fact that the NBA is a big business. The players themselves are creating brands for themselves by signing contracts for themselves in much the same way that business executives do — for their own personal benefit. At the end of the day, who else is going to do it for them?