Report: Kevin Durant just wants to blend in, man

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Cool shirt, Kevin Durant.
Cool shirt, Kevin Durant.

Ever since Kevin Durant decided to join the Golden State Warriors, NBA fans, writers and observers have been trying to figure out what exactly made him decide to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder. Was it long-lingering frustration with All-NBA teammate Russell Westbrook’s on-court style? Was it a desire to experience the Warriors’ vaunted chemistry? Was it the draw of Golden State’s wide-open, sharing-is-caring offense? Was it Guy Fieri?

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Or was it maybe that Durant … you know … just wanted to leave Oklahoma City? That’s a possibility presented by ESPN.com’s Royce Young in a piece on Russell Westbrook’s decision to renegotiate and extend his contract to stay with the Thunder, a choice that now stands in stark contrast to Durant’s decision to skip town:

It might have seemed as if it was a toss-up, that the Russell Westbrook many perceive wouldn’t stay in little ol’ Oklahoma City. He’s got his fashion interests. He’s from Los Angeles. He’s got to crave the big-city spotlight.

Durant always appeared to be the perfect fit with Oklahoma City, with his humble nature and down-home demeanor. But he also was drawn to a bigger city, not necessarily for the brighter lights, but for the ability to blend. In Oklahoma City, Durant carried a larger-than-life burden everywhere he went. He’d privately lamented to friends an inability to be in public. Westbrook’s ideal night off the floor, though? At home with his wife, Nina, watching anything other than basketball. That’s a fit with Oklahoma City.

On one hand, you can understand why Durant — nearly 7 feet tall, the signature player of the top-flight professional sports franchise in town — might have found it impossible to blend in as the brightest-shining star in a city of less than 700,000 people. Constantly being stared and gawked at can’t be very comfortable, even if your elevated profile comes attached to a salary that pays you tens of millions of dollars a year.

On the other, though, even in a larger media market (San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose ranks sixth among U.S. markets, whereas Oklahoma City ranks 43rd) and a more heavily populated area, it’s unlikely that Kevin Durant — former NBA Most Valuable Player, star of the U.S. men’s national basketball team in an Olympic year, man with a $300 million Nike endorsement contract and more sponsorships/advertising deals than you can shake a stick at — will really be able to “blend in” anywhere.

You can tell people you’re shorter than you really are all you want, but when you reach the kind of rarefied air KD has in his career, they’ll still tend to notice you when you’re out. Things should be made a bit easier on Durant by virtue of sharing the market with megawatt teammates Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, and with local sporting attention also divided among the likes of the San Francisco 49ers and San Francisco Giants. If the ability to move around town without being noticed and hemmed up is really what Durant’s looking for most of all, though, he might come away somewhat disappointed by what he finds.

Whatever Durant’s reasoning for leaving, he’s a Warrior now, and that fact has made him Public Enemy No. 1 in some circles. Whether Golden State’s status as a ready-made super-team that looks poised to dominate the league is good or bad for the league is a matter of some debate, but either way, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr — an unbiased source, truly — finds it hard to believe that people are painting his players as villains heading into the 2016-17 season. From ESPN:

“To think of Kevin Durant or Steph Curry or any of our guys as villains, it’s kind of absurd. Especially Kevin,” Kerr said Sunday in an interview on ESPN Radio’s TMI with Michelle Beadle and Ramona Shelburne. “This is one of the most likable people in this league. He’s just an awesome human being. What he did in Oklahoma City was just amazing for that community.

Kerr added: “Circumstances kind of dictate, I guess, that some people are going to see him as a villain. But it’s only because he decided to go elsewhere to play. He wanted to change his scenery, he wanted a new challenge. More than anything he wanted to play with our guys. He loves Draymond [Green] and Steph and Klay [Thompson] and Andre [Iguodala]. Seeing those guys in New York, he loved seeing the chemistry that exists and he wanted to be a part of it.”

Kerr makes reasonable points. Durant deciding to join an excellent team on which he’ll be put in a great position to both have fun and win is exceedingly reasonable, too. From the outside, though, that doesn’t really matter, because fandom isn’t governed by reason, and some people are going to find KD’s choice despicable no matter how sound the logic underpinning it was.

Durant and the Dubs are going to generate an awful lot of attention this season, both at home and on the road. He might be looking forward to sharing the spotlight with his new attention-grabbing teammates, but there’s only so much they’ll be able to defray; ultimately, winning is the only thing that’s going to turn down the heat. Whether the Warriors hit their rhythm quickly and dominate the league, or they stagger and stumble in their first season together, all eyes are going to be on them. Luckily, Durant’s got just the tattoo to be prepared for that.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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