So, about 30 years ago, this doctor named Stanley Milgram devised a psychology experiment. He told his students to go onto the NYC subway, find someone who was already sitting down, and ask them for their seat.
His students were all able-bodied, young individuals, so the request seemed simple enough. But that’s actually what made it so difficult.
As New Yorkers, his students immediately and inherently knew this was a big no-no. To ask for a seat was to stick your butt in the face of subway etiquette. Such a request on behalf of your own ass would make you look like one.
But Stanley insisted.
He was like, “Do you want to pass or not, you lazy jerks?” And they were like, “Fine. We’ll do it, you old sack of crap.”
(DISCLAIMER: This exact exchange never happened. By all accounts, Stanley Milgram was a very nice man. He’s also dead, so… RIP.)
Anyway, each one of Milgram’s students was supposed to ask for someone’s seat 20 times, but most of them didn’t make it past 12 or 14. They found the act of asking so repulsive that it legitimately made a few of them sick.
One-by-one, they tapped out.
They came back and protested again. This time, Stanley was like, “I knew you young punks weren’t about this psychology life. If I want something done right, guess I’ll have to do it my goddamn self.”
(DISCLAIMER: I’d like to apologize to Stanley Milgram’s family. I know he didn’t talk like this. I don’t know why I’m doing this.)
But Stanley would soon understand his students. Even at an older age he found asking for another person’s seat incredibly stressful. As soon as the question came out of his mouth, the whole subway car turned on him. Even when someone gave up their seat, the rest of the passengers were left feeling heated about the request.
Stanley’s experiment was miserable but it proved its point It showed how stressful it can be when a person breaks the unwritten rules of our society. That if you don’t have a good reason to break them, people will get super pissed.
So, what the hell does this have to do with basketball, you ask?
Well, since the league began, the NBA has operated under a social norm that kept everyone on the subway car cool, calm, and collected. An unwritten social contract that has existed between players – both current and retired alike…
Players expect the league to be fair. And when it’s not they get pretty fucking salty.
Last year, Kevin Durant decided to join the 73-win Golden State Warriors.
And if the players won’t say anything because it goes against their ultra-competitive nature, allow me to speak on their behalf…
I’m feeling salty as hell.
Last season, everyone hoped for the best. Maybe the fit would be weird. Maybe there would be chemistry issues… Negative.
We’re one season in and the league has seen it now. Now, everyone who is not the Golden State Warriors is feeling the bitter sting of futility, and a lot of them are looking at Durant chilling in his subway seat and thinking, “Fuck, that guy.”
I can’t blame them. As far as breaking the unwritten rule of fairness goes (which I’m calling “The Invisible Fairness Doctrine”) – we’ve never seen anything like this before.
Never has the best player on one conference finals team joined the other conference finals team that beat him.
Never has an MVP in his prime joined the team of another MVP in his prime.
Never has the second best player in the league joined a team that broke the NBA RECORD for wins.
Front-running, ring-chasing – that’s one thing. This is just piling on.
Durant’s single decision turned the postseason into a joke and made the best player of his generation (playing with his best team ever) look like the Washington Generals. It’s been one year, and it’s already clear that Durant pushed the league past an unseen threshold of what’s acceptable. He broke “The Doctrine” – and in return – all hell has broken loose.
Take a quick glance at the transfer sheet from this NBA offseason, and you’ll already see how the Warriors’ dominance is promoting an “anything goes” mentality. Chris Paul basically traded himself to the Rockets. Paul George saved Magic Johnson’s number as “Pizza Hut” so Sam Presti wouldn’t find out.
Kevin Durant knows that asking for that subway seat was wrong. It’s obvious. You can feel it in the way he adamantly defends how “right” he was. Whether it’s his incessant need to clap-back at everyone who talks trash about the move on Twitter. Or his on-repeat defense that, “The Warriors didn’t win the title.” As Shakespeare would write, “The lady doth protest too much…”
Or as a much worse author (me) would write, it’s like leaning over to a friend and saying, “Hey, just so you know, I’ve never murdered anyone.”
I’m sure Durant believed he could skate by on the “no title” technicality. But that would suggest he needs some more woke people in his camp. If Durant thought he’d look like a savior to fans everywhere because he avenged the Warriors’ loss in the 2016 Finals – someone should’ve shown him all the tapes of people celebrating after defense lawyers got their clients off for murder because they weren’t read their Miranda Rights.
Oh wait, those tapes are nowhere.
(DISCLAIMER: And don’t go thinking this murder example is from personal experience. Just so you guys know – I’ve never murdered anyone.)
So yes, Durant is technically correct. Just like lawyers are technically correct about Miranda Rights. But next time you’re at a party try starting every sentence with the word “technically” and see how long it takes before everyone hates you.
Here’s the bottom line:
As an NBA superstar, I’m assuming Durant considers himself some combination of two things: a competitor and an entertainer. After all, that’s what he gets paid 100’s of millions of dollars to do. Compete. Entertain. Compete. Entertain. A process that will continue until his 7-foot spider body is taken to an NBA farm upstate.
But as a competitor, I’m not sure what good this decision did for him, other than make his life easier.
It certainly won’t help his reputation/legacy down the line. He will never get full credit for these championships. Not by his peers or by the fans. You can see it in the way the league has responded to the Warriors’ title. You can see it in the way that fans have turned on one of the NBA’s most popular teams.
On a personal level, I gotta be honest – I feel the same way. I kind of hate the Warriors now. Whereas, during the 2015-2016 season, I was so in love with them that I could be found saying things like, “The Warriors affirm my worldview.” So, yeah.
Which brings me to the entertainer role.
Nowhere is Durant’s responsibility to the league more pressing than in regard to its entertainment value. As an NBA superstar, he has to understand that the NBA is an entertainment product, and that the value of that product is what earns him and his NBA brethren millions upon millions of dollars.
But when you make a decision that instantly makes the league less fun (and I’m talking about the actual games, not the offseason), you’re failing at that too. And you end up getting hit with a level of blame I would usually reserve for terrible owners and bad GMs.
In the NBA, competition and entertainment are inextricably linked. And so while it’s always been a league where the best team usually wins, there needs to be at least some semblance of a competitive balance. Like, can a dude get a 7 game series in this arena?
The Warriors answer that question with a resounding, “NO!” And the rest of the league will suffer for it.
We already saw the salary cap fall because there were so few playoff games this season. That means less money for teams to spend on free agents. And that means the imbalance is already starting to hurt Durant’s friends; his peers.
Local ratings will continue to fall too.
As the Warriors’ dominance crystallizes, the 15% drop we saw this season will only increase. A reality that hurts the NBA’s bottom line and every player who isn’t part of a superteam (hint: everyone else). As shocking as it may seem, the average fan loses interest when their squad has exactly a 0.0% chance of winning the title.
Durant’s decision turned the free market of the NBA into a monopoly. He turned a three team league with the appearance of competition into a one team dynasty devoid of intrigue.
So, take last season’s Finals ratings with a grain of salt. They may have been good, but I guarantee you future seasons will be worse. It’s an oozing NBA wound that will become infected if Durant and company keep trampling every team’s soul without breaking a sweat.
Competitive? No. Entertaining? Far from it.
In the past, the NBA’s “Invisible Fairness Doctrine” was governed by shame, ridicule, marginalization. The fact that you would get called out forever and eternity if you didn’t win the right way.
It’s time to make “The Servant” feel bad for his lack of service. It’s time to force Kevin to take some responsibility. Not only for himself, but for the rest of the league.
Durant knew the rules and he took the subway seat anyway. And try all he might to convince the other passengers it’s okay, pretty soon they’ll just get off the train.
This is a one-man problem – and he’s the only one who can get up off his ass and solve it.