I texted this to a friend recently, I used to want to be a sugar baby, but covid has made me pro sugar daddy life.
Which is to say, I have to imagine the pandemic is changing all of us—shifting our priorities, reshaping our bodies, and burdening us with a new set of mental health challenges. This reality, combined with my fascination with Kevin Durant, has me pondering how the pandemic might be changing him. Many have described Durant as something of a capricious genius. He’s left two franchises, it appears, feeling somewhat bereft. He left the Oklahoma City Thunder in search of a championship, a crown for his heavy head, and upon finding it, experienced a thudding existential post-coital come down. The championships in Golden State did not sate or complete him. He departed for Brooklyn in search of greener pastures away from Steph Curry and his singular hold on the hearts of fans in the Bay.
Maybe we’re seeing how Durant (and Irving) are changing in the construction of the recent four-team trade that brought James Harden to Brooklyn. You can read all of the details of the trade here, but for our purposes, all you need to know is that Harden is a Brooklyn Net, Caris LeVert is an Indiana Pacer, and Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince are Cleveland Cavaliers.
I have, in public and private, lamented the bounty of draft picks and exciting young players the Nets had to give up in order to get James Harden. I’ve found myself most confused and disappointed by Jarret Allen’s inclusion in the deal. Allen is young, athletic, and continues to improve. Just before the trade, it appeared he had finally and firmly secured the Nets starting center spot over DeAndre Jordan. Allen is a player whose best days, it can reasonably be expected, are ahead of him. The same cannot be said of Jordan. In basketball terms, it makes little sense to start DeAndre Jordan over Jarret Allen and it makes even less sense to ship Allen out of town without receiving a suitable replacement. (Free PJ Tucker!)
It is well known that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are good friends, choosing to team up in Brooklyn after rocky final seasons in both their previous stops. And both players are good friends with Jordan, they sacrificed guaranteed money in order to make room for him on the roster. If we assume that these superstars had some say in whether or not the Nets traded for James Harden and who the Nets would be willing to give up in said trade, Jarret Allen’s inclusion makes more sense.
As laid out in this wonderful article, we choose our friends, they are our elective family and as such, we can stop choosing them. Any long-lasting friendship is an act of constant re-committing. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have chosen and re-chosen DeAndre Jordan. They certainly chose Jordan over Kenny Atkinson. Given the present circumstances, who can blame them? During this time of extreme isolation and loneliness, ensuring that your friends stay close is a fitting and unsurprising response. If you had the power to ensure that your friends stayed close and employed, would you not wield that power? And if you could accomplish the highest of your professional goals with them by your side, would you not jump at that opportunity?
When I stopped thinking in terms of basketball and championships, I was reminded of the words of National Book Award-winning poet Justin Phillip Reed, in his moving examination of the use of Kendrick Lamar’s song “Alright” at the end of The First Purge. I’ve never seen the film, but Reed’s explanation of what Lamar’s “Alright,” both in and outside of the context of the film, conjures for its listeners, struck me as poignant:
In the communal mo(ve)ment, a contract is drawn toward the conditions of ecstasy. Its terms are, roughly:
I come in. I carry experience in the flesh like a water cone filled to the lip, and then I begin to sway. We each get in the sway til all us shake, experience spilling over and out of and over into. You could be thus emptied of what you come in here with, or I could help you carry it.
We are the adjacent cups vibrating our way through this life, catching what our friends runneth over with and by doing so, helping relieve them of some of that runover. And we are all so incredibly full cups these days. To want a cup you can trust by your side in these times is a quintessentially human desire.
I write this a few days removed from a five-hour gaming hang with three friends from graduate school. These gaming hangs—always Overwatch—are my most robust form of social interaction these days. Overwatch has become an essential part of these friendships. Not to mention, Overwatch is an extremely well-balanced game that combines the simplistic joy of eliminating other players, with a cartoonish playfulness. I challenge you not to belly laugh every time a Reinhardt’s ill-fated charge sends them flying off the map.
I have repeatedly criticized James Harden for being unwilling to adjust his game in the playoffs. As defense and scouting ratchet up, Harden’s reliance on foul drawing becomes problematic in the more physical, less whistle-happy space of the postseason—the lowest-hanging foul drawing opportunities all but disappear. The slower pace and tougher competition mean that multiple-effort defensive possessions become more central to winning on a nightly basis. All the tropes hold some bit of truth. Here, Jeff Van Gundy’s questioning comes to mind, do you want to win or do you want to win your way? It feels like the latter has always been the case for Harden (and Russell Westbrook). But Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant already have championships, maybe winning it their way, with their friends, is more important than a potentially marginal improvement to their champions odds. Maybe it’s okay that Jarret Allen must now become one of the trees surrounding “Sexland” and DeAndre Jordan’s ability to anchor a playoff defense might determine the Nets’ ultimate ceiling. There are worse things than going out on your own terms, losing (or winning) with your good buddies by your side.