In other words:, his prime years are ahead of him.
Indeed, while the basketball world—plus TMZ!—fixated on James taking his talents to South Beach for not one, not two, not three, not four (cue the Boy Band smoke machines!) but umpteen future championships, the NBA's actual next dynasty seems to be sprouting in Oklahoma City, where a young core of Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden is poised to win right now. And likely for the next decade, too. If Durant was a stock, he'd be Apple, just before the introduction of the first iPhone. I'm buying. It's nice that Durant is nice, but better that he's good.
Hampton, does anything stand between Durant and extended world basketball domination? And how sad are Portland fans—who got to watch Greg Oden for something like 82 games total over the last four years—going to be when they turn on the Finals and see yet another franchise-defining superstar who got away?
Come on, Patrick. Of course character counts. Sports are entertainment, and one of entertainment's most important functions is to communicate shared cultural values. If I find out a point-guard that I like beats his wife, for instance, I won't root for him any more—no matter how transcendent his talent may be. You can claim you only care about sports for the display of physical prowess, but I'm unabashedly looking for heroes and villains. And, really, they aren't that hard to spot. Sure, athletes today have tightly controlled public images. But even through the blizzard of hype, it's possible to get a sense of what a player is like as a human being, on- and off-court.
Unless you are with the Portland Trailblazers, apparently. For a long time, the Blazers picking Bowie over Jordan has been the gold standard for bad NBA drafting. It's not merely seen as the worst pick in league history, but has become a kind of symbol for a mistake so huge and glaring that Malcolm Gladwell will write a book about it. Yet the Blazers may have outdone themselves by taking Greg Oden over Durant. Incredibly, when news broke earlier this year that Oden needed yet another knee surgery, acting Trailblazers' GM Chad Buchanan stood by his club's pick. He claimed there was no way anyone could have predicted Oden's injuries.
Oh, yeah. That would have been impossible. You would have had to know that Oden had at least two surgeries before he even played college ball. One, to repair a dislocated hip, was in sixth grade. Not a good sign. Even ignoring the fragility, though, all Portland had to do was look at Oden's hangdog expression and body language on the court. The kid never seemed to be having fun playing basketball, let alone be hungry for titles.
Durant sure did. Always. That same year, in his single season at Texas, KD played in 35 games, averaging over 35 minutes per contest. (He also averaged 11.1 rebounds. Oden, the 7-footer, grabbed 9.6.) For me, though, it only took one of those games to know that Durant was special. That March, Durant brought his 15th-ranked Longhorns into Allen Field House, and put on maybe the single greatest performance by an opposing player in the history of KU basketball. It was just dazzling. Showing a poise that would have been sensational for an NBA vet, the freshman opened the game by going 5-for-5 on three-pointers. Then, in the second half, he got hot. Kid stopped, popped, dunked, banked, and everything-elsed for 25 points—despite spraining an ankle with four minutes left in the game. The KU crowd couldn't help but roar when he left the court.