Basketball, Procedural Rhetoric, and Cryonic Purgatory
Half way along the road we have to go,
I found myself obscured in a great forest,
Bewildered, and I knew I had lost the way.
On Monday, Kevin Durant finally put to rest years of speculation by formally announcing his decision to take his talents to Silicon Valley for the 2016–17 NBA season. But is he—as they say at Google—doing the right thing? No. Unambiguously no.
Let me be frank. I believe Kevin Durant to be the second greatest basketball player on the planet today. He is a unique player and I have nothing but admiration for his game. Moreover, Kevin Durant the public figure represented something special for me, and for many others on basketball’s radical left. Kevin Durant had integrity; he stood up for the working poor of the flyover states while other supposed role models shamelessly fled their post-industrial homes in order to form super teams in tropical tax havens.
He also represented those of us who still believe in competitive basketball, in an NBA that crowns its champions in June, not in July. In 2010, shortly after LeBron James’ infamous betrayal of the state of Ohio, Kevin Durant took to Twitter and issued the following statement:
“Now everybody wanna play for the heat and the Lakers? Let’s go back to being competitive and going at these peoples!”
The gauntlet had been thrown down. Here was a man of principle, of noble spirit, pledging to stand up to the opulence and corruption of the NBA’s tax-evading aristocracy. And, perhaps most importantly, he was convincing. This wasn’t just any player talking glibly into the ether; this wasn’t Jared Dudley telling us that “the NBA cares,” or Bryon Russell challenging Michael Jordan to a one-on-one. Kevin Durant was a remarkable talent possessed of the requisite physical tools to defy a league plagued by collusion and PED abuse by bringing a championship to Oklahoma. Apollo; the Frog King; Wotan; the Buddha; Kevin Durant: From behind a thousand faces the single hero looks out, archetype of all human myth.
And yet here we are in July 2016. We have been hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amok, and flat out deceived by Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors! Kevin Durant, the people’s champion, the last salvation of the masses, wants to go and play with Stephen Curry in his state of the art San Francisco Panopticon, and to plunge the state of Oklahoma straight back into the agonising misery of the Dust Bowl era.
So what does this mean? What fate lies in store for Kevin Durant? In order to understand the full magnitude of Durant’s epic betrayal we shall now consider a parallel case from British politics. On the 16th of July 2010, the same day Kevin Durant composed the above tweet, Liberal Democrat MP Nick Clegg published a pamphlet for Demos in which he outlined his plan for a liberal parliament. An amusing document in hindsight, Clegg pledged to radically redistribute power, restore civil liberties, repair the UK’s “broken political system,” and cultivate a green economy. So much for that.
Like Durant, Clegg appeared at first to offer something fresh and invigorating. His proposed policies were, by their soundness and practicality, unorthodox: scrap the Trident nuclear programme; offer amnesty to illegal immigrants; freeze VAT and tuition fees. This was music to the ears of British voters who had endured sixteen years of New Labour, and, regrettably, the less critical among them yielded to Clegg’s charms when they should have been out voting for the Communist Party of Great Britain, or, at the very least, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.
The results were no less painful for their predictability: instead of forming a coalition with other left-wing parties in the wake of an extremely tight election, Clegg took the path of least resistance and sought to grasp whatever power was immediately available to him by literally entering into a pact with the Devil. Appropriately, this Tory-Lib Dem coalition is represented visually by the blue and yellow of the Golden State Warriors. Yet more evidence of the global neoliberal conspiracy I am tasked with unravelling.
Far from curtailing the rapacious tendencies of the Tories and realising his vision of a liberal parliament, Nick Clegg and his Lib Dem colleagues obediently delivered precisely the austerity policies they had just finished campaigning against. Perhaps these were the policies that he had believed in all along, for Clegg, we must not forget, studied at Cambridge and worked as a journalist for the Financial Times before his career as a politician, and is therefore as apt an example of establishment vermin as the most pestiferous Tory rat.
And where is he now? There can be only one fate for a moral coward: Purgatory. Nick Clegg barely even exists today; he is a besuited spectre languishing on the periphery of an irrelevant political party that, in a desperate plea for attention, has taken up the cause of the centre-left imbeciles of the EU referendum’s “remain campaign”—young, “educated,” and entitled urbanites—by vowing to overturn the democratic will of the people and once more deliver the UK into the neoliberal clutches of the European Union. This is the destiny that awaits all those whose life was a compromise over important issues, those who lived without occasion for infamy or praise.
And it is the will of the people that Kevin Durant, too, seeks to overturn by brazenly discarding his principles—the principles of competitive basketball—to accept dirty Silicon Valley dollars and consolidate greater power in the hands of yet fewer NBA teams. The people demand an NBA that is competitive and fair for all, not an NBA in which the few succeed at the expense of the many.
“It’s a business.” This was the mantra of the Sternist regime, and it is a refrain that Adam Silver keeps at the front of his lizard mind. But basketball can never be subordinated to the dictates of business; basketball is a game, and games, like myths, provide us with foundational stories that offer meaning and instruction for how we are to live. Games impose arbitrary and unexceptionable rules that must be observed, replacing the confused and intricate laws of ordinary life and thus bringing a temporary, limited perfection into an otherwise confused and imperfect world. For the vulgarities of mundane life—of “business”—to infiltrate and pollute the game of basketball is a crime most heinous.
Games present heroes and villains, stories of good versus evil, civilisation versus chaos, and so on, and in so doing provide opportunities for moral engagement. But what happens when a game presents only evil? What happens when a myth tells only of the villain’s triumph? The procedural rhetoric of NBA free agency is saturated with the logic of monopoly capitalism, and therefore directly contributes to tacit popular endorsement of systemic inequality. In other words, by signing with the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant is literally condemning millions around the globe to death by starvation.
Neither Kevin Durant nor Nick Clegg is worthy of Hell, and even less of Heaven. The heavens reject them because they are less than perfect; they are forbidden Hell lest the damned should feel some superiority in their presence. Nick Clegg is already consigned to the oblivion of being a Lib Dem MP, but what horrors lie in store for Kevin Durant?
Years from now, his Silicon Valley masters having trained their avaricious gaze on the conquest of death itself, Kevin Durant will sign over the rights to his physical body (the NBPA will have long since surrendered its members’ autonomy and human rights) and be delivered upon retirement to Joe Lacob’s cryonic preservation lab where his seven foot frame—and, in theory, his basketball talent—will be frozen for the benefit of future generations (of profiteering NBA owners). As Durant settles into his capsule and begins to question whether this really is a good idea after all, and even as the ice crystals begin shredding his brain matter, the the enormity of his current blunder will return to him. He will find himself in a forest, dark and cold, and, as he staggers to the edge of the treeline, he will spy a figure.
When I saw that fellow in the great desert,
I cried out to him: ‘Have pity on me,
Whatever you are, shadow or definite man.’
And he replied: ‘You do not want to make an enemy out of me.’