NBA Finals Game 5 was set up for maximal drama. The (previously) heavily favored Golden State Warriors were on the ropes, down 3-1 to the Toronto Raptors. The Warriors are loaded with stars, but they were playing short-handed. One of the Warriors super-duper-stars, Kevin Durant, had missed the whole series with a gruesome looking non-contact calf (or achilles?) injury that occurred during the Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against Houston.
The sports airwaves crackled with One Big Question: Would Durant play? When would he play? Could they win without him?
Just before game time, it was announced. Durant would play. It would be his ‘Willis Reed Moment.’
It started out storybook. “Durant spots up from threeeeeee. AND IT’S GOOD!” And then again. And again! The Slim Reaper had 11 points in 12 minutes, and the Warriors were out to an early lead.
Then it happened.
On a cross-over dribble early in the 2nd Quarter. Durant pulled up lame and grabbed the back of his foot. It was clear to almost everyone watching that he had ruptured his achilles.
That wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Not at all.
The Warriors managed to survive and win the game. But the post-game press conference, by Warriors GM, Bob Myers, was a tearful and emotional one:
“He’s one of the most misunderstood people. He’s a good teammate, he’s a good person, it’s not fair. I’m lucky to know him. I don’t have all the information on what really the extent of what it all means until we get a MRI, but the people that worked with him and cleared him are good people, they’re good people…. I don’t believe there’s anybody to blame, but I understand this world,” Myers said. “If you have to, you can blame me. I run our basketball operations department.”
Myers certainly spoke from the heart, but the issue raises larger questions about our sports culture and also about our larger culture.
Here at The Good Men Project, when we talk about “the disposability of men” (i.e., the prioritizing – in traditional masculinity – of toughness over health, often to the detriment of men), we usually talk about football. We talk about CTE and brain injuries. We sometimes talk about baseball, and the over-use injuries to pitchers throwing 100 MPH. While this is not football and head injuries, this – culturally- is a disposability of men (and athletes) issue. Simply put, many people wanted KD to play more than they cared about his short term or long term health.
Dave Zirin, Sports Editor at The Nation, summarized it this way:
Love @KDTrey5 for what he means locally here in the DMV. It’s different for 1,000 reasons but the flashback to RGIII was very real in my house. Queasy. And angry at everything all of us did to create an atmosphere of pressure on someone who clearly shouldn’t have been out there.
— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) June 11, 2019
First responsibility falls on Dubs, medical staff and Bob Myers. But we were all clamoring for this narrative: for the comeback, for the Dubs at their best. Very few voices saying health first and eff the haters.
— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) June 11, 2019
Some comments and observations on this issue from our writers and readers in the Good Men Project community are below:
“I didn’t need him to play … I never need anyone to play.” – Marty Josephson
“This is terrible. It’s a man’s health, his livelihood. Now, maybe he wanted to come back – it’s the Finals and his team was down 3-1 – but it wasn’t worth the risk.” – Emily Stern
“The abuse of contact sports players by amateur, pro, and semi-pro is done with intent and permission based on a fantasy. It is the very model of commoditization. The industry sucks the life out of players and walks away from their broken and shattered lives. Appalling.” – Carol Bluestein
“Not that it makes it any more fair–it doesn’t–but this whole public backlash was due also to public perception of KD as being, in the kindest possible terms, kind of [aloof]. Fans were predisposed to second-guess him. And that circumstance just highlights the whole disposability issue even more. “We don’t really like or trust you. Get out there and earn our love with your pain, fool.” It’s the disposability issue with a small side of malice.” – Michael Sutherland
“And all those writers should shut up and this is where we are in sports when the game and the sport is secondary to making us all feel better by fixing blame somewhere and assassinating players for character flaws created in our own minds.” – Josephson
“That’s the thing. We don’t know these folks in any way, and when you see racial and other prejudices coming out in these cases, it just adds a layer of sadness–of “here-we-go-again” weight–to it all. Phil Mickelson was painted for years as a Good Guy. Well, he’s also a tax-evading gambling addict. (Any racial preferences there, sportswriters?) White suspicion of black NBA players is too common to dwell on. It’s like the air fans breathe. And on the other side, less racial, but still evidence of who-really-knows: David Ortiz. Everybody loves David Ortiz. He’s bigger than life! He’s a hug machine! Yes–he seems to be a genuinely warm and caring person. But someone wanted (wants) him dead. There’s one story that he was having an affair with a drug lord’s wife. Who knows? We fans sure as hell don’t, whatever the public image is.
Deadspin is very much a satire site–mixed with some real news and serious commentary–but pieces like their “this is why you have two calves, you coward”–that people even find it funny–is exactly part of the problem. Even the jokes amplify the pressure and resentment. And a guy like KD whose main sin might be no more than being very shy and insecure (therefore turning to really foolish things like burner accounts to defend himself) wound up in a really unfair pressure cooker. He was, as a healthy player, arguably the best player in this series (he or Kawhi). That talent and his rep for petulance made the situation much worse. And maybe the whole drift of sports toward Belichickian levels of secrecy–like we’re talking about fucking military secrets here–is part of this. DON’T DISCLOSE THE SEVERITY INJURY. INFORMATION BENEFITS THE OPPOSITION. [Screw] all of that.” – Sutherland
“The sports industry is not built on the games. It is built on all the hyperbolic opinion and rumor creation that people ingest and spit back up because it tastes so good as it spills out of our mouths mixed with all the bias and preconception buried in us.” – Josephson
“More so as the salaries and overall worth of the leagues and associated businesses (like fantasy) keep spiraling up. Where individual men and women are viewed as assets with no other inherent worth, and yes,then mythologized in sometimes (or usually) pretty stupid ways.” – Sutherland
“I think at least someone should raise a voice in defense of the Warriors Organization. Bob Meyers was visibly distraught that his actions may have contributed to KD’s injury. He even tried to take all the weight off every decision-maker, because the buck stops with him. These guys are more than just teammates on a team, they’re family. They fight, they argue, and they fight for each other. KD made his decision to play, in my opinion, less because he wanted another ring, but because he wanted to be there. These guys live their entire lives for an elimination game in The Finals. That’s the goal, that’s the aim, that’s what all the work is for. He made a bad business decision, when he made a heart decision. We’ve all done it. I’ve nothing but love and respect for him and the organization.” – McKay Williams (Oakland, CA)
What do YOU think?
Photo Credit: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via The Associated Press