For basketball fans of a particular age, Michael Jordan represents the ideal of superstar comportment and attitude. That belief extends to his quality of play, certainly, but primarily focuses on his single-minded focus and take-no-prisoners approach to winning. For Jordan, everything related to himself and the team had to lead towards winning a title. If it didn't, it did not suit his aims.
To a certain extent, any great player who does not evince this same level of determination (like, say, LeBron James) is thought to be lacking. Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, however, has never thought to be less than intensely focused on his goals. While Durant has a deserved reputation as a nice guy, he's also one of the fiercest competitors in the NBA.
However, it's possible that Durant has occasionally let his intensity get the better of him. In an interview with Darnell Mayberry for The Oklahoman, Durant explains that he's trying not to be quite so obsessed about winning a title in 2013-14:
Few on the outside world knew it, but chasing a championship swallowed up Durant a season ago. In many ways, he succumbed to the pressure our sports culture puts on star players. He felt he needed to be perfect. Felt his team had to perform flawlessly.
“Last year, I was obsessed with it,” Durant said of winning a title. “Like, I wasn't going to sleep because I wanted to win so bad. I was screaming at my teammates, at the refs, at the coaches. I got mad because I thought ‘if we have a bad game here, we're not going to win a championship.'”
That edge, Durant said, is part of the reason he was uncharacteristically whistled for 12 technical fouls last season — matching his combined total from his five previous seasons.
“So I'm not going to let that overtake my mind,” said Durant of his championship chase. “I mean, of course I want to win it, but I'm not obsessed with it. I'm going to put in the work to help my team, but I'm not going to be obsessed with it because that's when I compromise myself, and most of the time it doesn't work out.”
To be clear, Durant is not saying he's no longer focused on winning a title — elsewhere in the interview, he says it's his only real goal now that he's accomplished so much on an individual level. What he means, in short, is that he understands that he can't conceive of that goal as an individual task. Last season, that responsibility weighed on him. Now, Durant gets that he can't do it all himself.
It's also possible that he learned as much when he actually did have to take on an undue portion of responsibility last postseason. After Russell Westbrook was lost to a knee injury, Durant effectively had to carry the Thunder offense by himself, which proved to be a near-impossible task against the Memphis Grizzlies' elite defense. In a way, that experience could have proven that Durant needs to think of the challenge of winning a title in more practical terms.
It's as yet unclear if this change in demeanor will have any effect on the Thunder's finish this season, but it's good to hear that Durant is trying to channel his intensity in more productive, less destructive ways. The determination to win a title can be an admirable trait without devolving into something personally distasteful.