I don’t know when it happened, but the Oklahoma City Thunder have finally become the champions of the downplay. Maybe it was when Kevin Durant used his pull to get Nenad Krstic a spot on a Sports Illustrated cover or maybe it was when James Harden dedicated himself to being the best bench player in the league even though he could start for 30 teams. Whatever the case, the fact of the matter is that the Thunder are the NBA best when it comes to making things seem not quite as awesome as they really are.
For example, here’s Serge Ibaka on LeBron James. From the Palm Beach Post:
“LeBron is not a good defender,” Ibaka said about the player who received the most votes for the league’s all-defensive team, which is selected by the coaches.
“He can play defense for two to three minutes but not 48 minutes.”
And here’s Kevin Durant on Kevin Durant. From NBA.com:
David Aldridge: Do you feel like a different kind of superstar?
KD: I don’t feel like a superstar, to be honest. You say ‘superstar,’ you gotta look at guys like the Kobe Bryants and the LeBrons and the DWades, where they can’t go to the mall. They can’t even go to the McDonalds. They just get swarmed. Carmelo Anthony, I’ve seen that up close, where people just love those guys. As opposed to me, I can just be regular. I can walk out, walk down the street, go to the mall, go to the gas station, and people don’t even recognize me. I like it like that. I always wanted to consider myself as a good basketball player, and I’m not there yet.
So just to clarify — LeBron James (4-time NBA All-Defensive team) is not a good defender and Kevin Durant (3-time scoring champion) is not a superstar. Everything you’ve ever known is a lie and Santa Claus is real.
Of course, both of these things are wrong. LeBron James is a very good defender, as evidenced by him being second in the league in defensive Win Shares and top 20 in net defensive rating, and Kevin Durant is a superstar, which seems like a given but if you don’t buy it just remember he finished top five in MVP voting the last three years. I know that both of these things are just these two dudes’ opinions, but sometimes opinions can be wrong. (Not to mention, I’m not even sure I believe that Kevin Durant ever goes to the gas station. He probably has someone do it for him because he is usually pretty busy with all of his basketball stuff.) Serge Ibaka can think LeBron James isn’t a good defender because he doesn’t block a billion shots and Kevin Durant can think he’s not a superstar because he plays in Oklahoma City where people just let him be, but that’s not the truth.
But this is the Thunder way, making things seem not as important as they are. Kevin Durant can win every scoring title for the rest of his career and he won’t care because it’s not a championship. Serge Ibaka isn’t going to admit that anyone else could be as good of a defender as he is because then that would mean he’s not the best. As far as the Thunder are concerned, if it doesn’t have to do with them, they don’t care.
The worry, however, is that the Thunder push their de-emphasization skills to the limit to the point where they are downplaying things that are obviously the best, therefore completely ruining this us-against-the-world motivational technique. When we hear Nick Collison tell a reporter that the Beatles were a semi-important band, we’ll know they’ve gone too far.