As athletes become treated more like celebrities, TMZ has taken on an increasingly important role in shaping and creating the stories that interest fans. (For instance, did you know that Greg Oden plays for the Heat now?) On-court production is no longer the only story -- a man's significant others and lifestyle can be as integral to his reputation as the amount of points he scores or the number of shots he blocks.
Kevin Durant's life does not usually make for TMZ fodder. As the NBA's most likable young star (better luck next time, Derrick Rose), Durant radiates humility, professionalism, and an obsession with basketball that should probably be diagnosed by a trained psychologist.
Cameras from celebrity news outlet TMZ recently caught Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant on the street in Los Angeles and asked him what there is to do for fun in Oklahoma.
When Durant mumbled "nothing" as he continued to walk away from the camera, his response created controversy and forced Durant to explain his comment on social networking Web sites Twitter and Facebook.
"I dissed Oklahoma cuz I didn't wanna sit n talk to TMZ and all I said was the word nothing..y'all forgot all the times I scream OKC? ok cool" Durant posted Tuesday on his Twitter account.
Durant has made it quite clear throughout his three seasons in Oklahoma City that he loves the town and the team's fans in the surrounding area. Turning his dismissal of TMZ into a controversy is a distortion of the most likely scenario: that TMZ is annoying and Durant just wanted to be left alone. There's no reason to discount three years of happiness because of one word, especially when it might not have been a direct response to the posed question.
Nevertheless, this Durant incident remains instructive in terms of how a player's personal brand and history can affect public reception of a questionable moment. If LeBron James were in KD's spot with TMZ, his "nothing" would likely become a national story about how he's turned his back on small town America. With Durant, though, people are more willing to accept his explanation for the incident and move on. That makes sense in a lot of ways -- interpretations of actions are usually based on personal histories instead of the act itself, and Durant has proven himself to be a more considerate person than James over the years. But Occam's razor still applies to jerks as well as nice guys, and it makes more sense that an athlete would disregard a question from a paparazzo than say the opposite of everything he's claimed about OKC in the past.
So, yes, Durant has earned our trust and should be given the benefit of the doubt in this case. We should just be willing to do that more often with other players, too.
- Kevin Durant