Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

"The Decision" & The Stress It Brings To The NBA's Elite

July 8, 2010 was a day that forever changed the NBA landscape. The year that LeBron James first hit the free agent market, the intrigue and speculation surrounding his plans for the future began hitting levels not previously seen for athletes in any sport, much less basketball. Naturally, the bastions of journalistic integrity at ESPN saw an opportunity for ratings that they were not about to pass up. And once they had that established, the date was set for LeBron to announce the next team he’d play for in a 75-minute television special. In the end, it drew a 6.1 rating. To put that in perspective, it’s around the number that pro wrestling used to draw during the Monday Night War heyday.

The aftermath of the ESPN special, The Decision, was rather interesting. The people of Miami rejoiced that the Heat were getting the deadliest “Big 3″ in the NBA with LeBron, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Meanwhile, the people of Cleveland lost their collective mind, as they burned their LeBron Cavaliers jerseys almost in unison. They considered LeBron’s decision a betrayal rivaled only by Art Modell’s conversion of the Browns into the Ravens, who have claimed 2 NFL Championships since they moved to the city of Baltimore. And let’s be honest, the expansion Cleveland Browns haven’t accomplished much of anything since their return to the NFL in 1999.

You see, the thing about “the decision” is that, no matter who you are, no matter how beloved you are, or what you eventually decide, you are always going to end up disappointing someone. It’s simply unavoidable. This is the lesson that LeBron learned after The Decision, when he became the NBA’s resident villain in every NBA town but Miami. The following offseason, he expressed regret about the media circus surrounding his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami, stating:

“… if the shoe was on the other foot and I was a fan, and I was very passionate about one player, and he decided to leave, I would be upset too about the way he handled it.”

This past offseason, LeBron decided on a return to the Cavaliers in a much quieter fashion via an essay featured in the Fansided affiliate, Sports Illustrated. Since doing so, Cavaliers jerseys with LeBron’s name and #23 from his playing days in Cleveland sold out before he finally decided he was even going back to #23 to begin with. Unsurprisingly, most of the Heat’s bandwagon fans have jumped off in search of a new one since the essay’s publication, which is just fine by the Heat’s true die-hard fans anyway.

And now that they’re done with LeBron this year, the relentless-as-ever media has turned its attention to Oklahoma City Thunder superstar, Kevin Durant, in what I’m sure ESPN is already envisioning as “The Decision: Part II” for their 2016 summer schedule.

Durant did offer his thoughts on LeBron’s decision to return to Cleveland, saying:

“I thought it was well-thought-out. It was classy. It was a great move to do it as a letter. That was pretty cool. It’s funny seeing guys think about more than just basketball for once. He thought about the city where he comes from, about Northeast Ohio and how he can affect so many of the kids just being there playing basketball. I love that. So many guys get criticized for making the decision that’s best for them, instead of what’s best for everybody else. He’s a guy that did that. You gotta respect that. I applauded him, I texted him and told him congratulations on the decision and told him I was happy for him. As a fan of the game, it’s going to be pretty cool to see him back in Cleveland.”

But when it came time for the media to speculate on Durant’s impending free agency, he quickly shut it down by stating:

“It’s hard to talk about that right now when I’ve got two years left in Oklahoma City. I’m just going to focus on that. I’m not going to make a decision based on what anybody else does. I grew up watching the Bullets/Wizards. I grew up taking the train to that arena, all the time, to watch Georgetown, the Bullets, the Washington Mystics. That whole city is a part of me. It’s in my blood. I love going back home, seeing my family and playing there, but I love Oklahoma City too.”

Sadly, Durant is aware that this is today’s media simply doing what they’re paid to do: Speculate when there’s no real news to report.

“Look, we going to put it out on tape. It’s been talked about. Everybody’s asked me about it every time I go on Instagram or Twitter. All my friends ask me about it. So I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m naive to the fact that people think about that stuff. But I just tell everybody that I’m here in Oklahoma City, [and] I love it here. Who knows what will happen? I never close the door on anything. But I like where I’m at right now, so I can’t answer that question.”

In the interest of honesty, the only real certainty that Durant can give anyone in regards to his 2016 free agency is simply:

“I’m going to do what’s best for me.”

And in the end, that’s all the people of Oklahoma City should hope to expect from this man. Back in 2010, Durant signed a 5-year, $86 million contract extension without any player options for early termination to demonstrate his loyalty to a city that has taken him in as family. He has two years remaining on it, and Oklahoma City may have to ultimately face the fact that Durant may bolt for the Washington Wizards if he can’t win an NBA Championship in a Thunder uniform.

While Durant doesn’t want to disappoint anyone in OKC, he doesn’t really want to disappoint anyone in D.C. either. This is the conundrum that he knows he has to face down two years from now, which is why he doesn’t want to speculate at this stage. 2016 is still quite a long way down the road from here, and many things can happen between here and there that could completely change his mindset from where it is today.

But I feel where Durant is coming from on one issue: The media really does need to stop hounding the NBA’s elite about their future plans, as I’m sure they’ll let us know when they’ve reached a decision. We can focus on other topics in the meantime, because we really should only be writing about an NBA free agent’s plans once he’s actually made the decision, not before. As the media, we really need to stop jumping the gun.

And I’ll only ask one favor of my readers: Do not hesitate to let me know in the comments section if I’m ever failing to take my own advice in regards to this issue, as if I step back, analyze, and agree, I’ll be most likely to thank you for it. Actually, I will be ending this article by thanking you in advance.

I appreciate my readers keeping me grounded. Thank you for everything you do for me.

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Tags: Kevin Durant LeBron James Oklahoma City Thunder

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