While this particular instance didn’t involve Kevin Durant, the Warriors’ infighting went viral for about the thousandth time on Sunday night. They sleepwalked through a home loss against the last place Suns and Steve Kerr appeared to rip Draymond Green. The Warriors are under a constant microscope, locally and nationally. It may not even be possible for a basketball team to be more exhaustively covered.
While Durant may not even 100% know yet where he’s playing next season, since Chris Haynes said on FS1 last October there’s a ‘very good chance’ Durant will wind up with the Knicks, there’s been a fever pitch in that direction. Every time this comes up, the conversation shifts to Well, Kevin Durant is thin-skinned, could he handle the big bad New York media? I would posit this beast no longer exists in its past feral form, and it’s difficult if not impossible for the scrutiny anywhere he goes to eclipse what he already faces in Golden State.
I asked Ian Begley, who covers the Knicks for ESPN, and Action Network’s Rob Perez, the die-hard Knicks fan better known as World Wide Wob who obsessively follows the NBA and its media, about their thoughts on my opinion.
“I mostly agree with you, Ryan. The idea that the New York media would present some kind of unique challenge for Kevin Durant is overblown,” says Begley. “Since his free agency in the 2016 offseason, Durant has been one of the most scrutinized players in the NBA. That wouldn’t change if he played for a team in New York.”
“The New York media has a reputation of being ‘the most harsh’. You want to know what acts as gasoline being poured onto an open flame to fuel this notoriety?” asks Perez. “A city with a bunch of pro teams that flat out stink. If you remove the Yankees and a once-every-decade performance from the Knicks/Rangers/Mets from the equation, the nation’s most populous city and biggest sports market in terms of quantity of teams is irrelevant in almost every championship discussion.”
Perez continues: “You’re not going to believe this, but, when you suck and have millions of people who care that you suck — the press is not favorable. This applies to any major city, not just NYC. When I hear ‘well, player X and player Y won’t come to New York because they already don’t like talking to the media and can you imagine them trying to deal with the media there?’, I want to tomahawk my computer out the window.”
There are a confluence of factors at play here. The NBA is a national sport where the stars command individualistic attention regardless of where they play. It’s not that regions don’t matter at all, but LeBron in Cleveland, especially in his second go-round, proved that you can be a one-man epicenter of media scrutiny from anywhere.
As the media landscape has grown more fragmented, some of New York’s potential drawbacks have subsided. There really isn’t an individual columnist like Mike Lupica or radio show like Mike and the Mad Dog where local media members in New York can operate the guillotine on players or coaches that they deem under-performers. Francesa’s last such act was probably on Ben McAdoo, and at this point in his career it’s difficult to see him being that type of galvanizing force ever again.
Who is there right now that writes for a newspaper or web site, hosts a radio show, or does TV in the specific New York media that, if he or she fixated on picking on Durant, it would matter enough to cut through all the clutter?
The Warriors have an extensive cadre of beat writers, and Durant has had to face the additional burden of the criticism that he cheapened the sport by joining a Warriors team that in the two years before he got there had won an NBA championship and set the regular season wins record.
The question becomes, then, if traditional media is not a marginal burden in New York versus Golden State, would social media be? Perhaps yes, perhaps no.
“Sure, Knicks players sometimes take umbrage with the local media coverage. But that’s true of any team in any market. The one element to watch here is fan engagement on social media,” Begley says. “Some former Knicks who have played in multiple cities say that the volume of fans writing on their social media pages is at its highest when they play in New York. When those players perform well, the responses are positive. When they play poorly, Knicks fans aren’t shy in expressing their disappointment. Durant, as we all know, has responded to critical fans on social media via his own account and his burner accounts over the years. Would he defend himself against criticism from Knicks fans on social media after an off shooting night? If he does, that would certainly be a talking point for the media. But that would be the case no matter where Durant plays.”
There are lots of reasons beyond media why there are risks of going to the Knicks. The Nets, for example, are probably a better basketball situation. The Knicks have been mired in a morass for nearly two decades. They’ve burned through so many regimes and are so self-evidently awful that we barely bat an eyelash when James Dolan tells a fan he’s banned from the arena for shouting to sell the team.
Nevertheless, this situation also presents tremendous upside. With how starved Knicks fans have been for any sliver of excitement, would it really be championship or bust for Durant if he went there? The Ewing/Oakley/Mason Knicks are revered by that fan base, and while they did get to Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals they never won a title. If Durant got to the playoffs and won a round or two, wouldn’t the fans be profoundly appreciative?
“Social media has enabled the same overly-intensive, critical coverage of any sports organization in America,” says Perez. “If you’re that popular, you’re going to get covered to the point of it being agonizing whether you’re located in Wichita, Kansas or NYC. You cannot escape the ‘media’ in 2019. However, if you’re still convinced NYC is the worst’ — they are ‘the worst’ for a reason. That means they care. That means the readers care. Now think if you’re the man responsible for ending the drought. spinning the narrative, and quenching the city’s decade-long thirst for a Canyon of Heroes parade — with high risk comes high reward. Some lust for that opportunity, some people just want to punch the time clock. There is no right or wrong answer. Just know the only difference between NYC and other cities isn’t ‘the media’, it’s the opportunity.”
[Image via Michael Shamburger]