“Not the Savior of the Knicks:” Is Kevin Durant “Chilling” Or Dodging the Challenge?


Kevin Durant (above) chose the Knicks over the Nets in free agency. (Courtesy of Flickr)

In the three major professional sports leagues, the NFL, NBA and MLB, we see a trend happening often when championship-hungry star players hit their respective free agent markets. 

They choose to take the easy route to the league crown, joining the market with an established super team bound to dominate the league. Very few athletes dare to sign in a market where the talent is young, but the lights are brighter with them there. They shy away from the opportunity to prove they can win in a market where there is no star-studded roster; however, any form of success would deem them a legend. 

A market like New York City and the Knicks. 

For years, arguably since “The Decision” by Lebron James in 2010, the New York Knicks have been passed on by the NBA’s greatest players more times than their fans want to remember. It seems like every summer the media begins stirring up rumors about the latest max free agent to be signed by the Knicks, only to have those rumors be empty as the free agent decides to take his talents elsewhere. The usual reasoning includes ownership, a losing culture, an unreasonable media presence and a lack of other high-profile pieces on the roster. 

However, there is an encompassing layer to the Knicks’ inability to land a max free agent. The above reasoning is legitimate and believable, but all connect to one underlying excuse: nobody of superstar talent in the NBA is built for the challenge of playing for and elevating the Knicks. 

Carmelo Anthony has been and remains the only top-tier player in the league to rise to that occasion. Despite starting his career in Denver where he took off and leading the Nuggets from ruin to playoffs alongside a few notable names, Anthony wanted more. He wanted to transition to a big market where he could elevate his game, embrace the challenges that came with it and create a legacy for himself in a city where winning etches your name in stone. 

The rest of his close colleagues have not been mentally built for the burden the Knicks and New York bring. Anthony even knows that himself, and he once alluded to it when talking about his wanting to come to New York. 

“I wanted it. It was something I wanted. I wanted to take that challenge on. Whether I failed at it or not I wanted to be able to say that I did it,” he said. “Not everybody has that same mentality.”

This past week, that given fact was once again reaffirmed by the latest Knick that could have been: Kevin Durant. 

Although the Knicks are officially in their new era under Leon Rose and head coach Tom Thibodeau, buzz recirculated in the media regarding what happened over the summer when New York lost out on signing Kevin Durant. That started with Durant himself. 

The new Brooklyn Net joined the “The Old Man and the Three” podcast with J.J. Reddick to discuss his new home in Brooklyn and the background behind his decision to nix the Knicks back in the summer. In being very open in the episode, Durant said he “never planned” on going to the Knicks, didn’t want to be “the savior of New York” and just wanted to chill and hoop in Brooklyn. 

“Around February [of 2019] I was thinking, ‘I didn’t want to be the savior of the Knicks or New York.’ I didn’t care about being the King of New York. That never really moved me,” Durant said. 

“I just want to play ball and go to the crib and chill. So I felt like that’s what Brooklyn embodied. I felt like Brooklyn is everything I’m about — chill, on the low, all-black everything, we’re quiet. Just focus on basketball. There’s no show when you come to our games. No Madison Square, no Mecca.”

Kevin Durant wanted to go to Brooklyn because he wanted to just lay low and play basketball. It seems like an honest reason to pass on a career-elevating opportunity. It’s actually far from it, and Durant even proves that in the interview.

If Durant truly had the desire to just play basketball and live the chill life at the crib, he could have just stayed in Golden State. There he would have had the sunny, California lifestyle and winning would have come easy with the Warrior dynasty that he won a championship comfortably with. New York isn’t dubbed “the city that never sleeps” for no reason. 

Durant explicitly said he did not want to be the Knicks’ “savior,” by which he meant he did not want to be inserted into the spotlight and become the face of the team. He didn’t want to be responsible for being the leader of the Knicks when the team is in rebuild mode. However, any fruits from his labor would change the basketball culture in New York and make him an icon. 

He even spoke about the relentless media, which holds stars and rookies alike accountable, being a burden in New York and related it to the false buzz around him over the summer. 

“Once I signed a [one-year deal], just the noise got louder about me going to the Knicks for some reason. Knicks being the savior, you know how that goes. Every time a big free agent is up the Knicks are going to get him. So it just took off.”

Regardless of what Durant has said about rejecting the Knicks over the summer, the rejection all comes back to one thing: He wasn’t up for the challenge of leading the Knicks. His situation could have been better than that of previous prospective free agents due to the presence of Leon Rose and the less involved James Dolan. Still, he didn’t want to deal with the bright lights, ownership, media and burden of championing a Knicks resurgence. 

Durant was dodging the challenge presented before him instead vying for the place of comfort. In Brooklyn, he’ll be partnered with Kyrie Irving and a list of other rising players, and he won’t have as many scrutinizing eyes watching him daily. Most importantly, he’ll have a coach he’s personally friendly with in Steve Nash. 

If the Knicks want to take anything from that pot-stirring interview, they should take the message that Durant was afraid to embrace their team. It will at least give them something to boo him for when he comes to Madison Square Garden next season.