Category Archives: Russell Westbook

This bird has flown: The KD heartbreak from an Oklahoman’s perspective

It finally hit me the other day, and I’ve finally formulated my words so they hopefully sound less insane.

He’s gone. Really gone.

KD

A meme I built when the Thunder went to the NBA Finals in 2012. I was so damned proud of that team.

I feel like I’ve known him so long, and now, he’s just… gone. Silly to think I knew him… silly to think of this as anything beyond a “basketball decision.” But though I had no say in the matter, and didn’t deserve any say in the matter, I still hate it.

Many of you know by now that I’m into birds. And music. And sports. The three things have bumped around my head lately, all on the topic of my (former) favorite NBA player of all time, Kevin Durant. It seems only natural to my little brain that I compare the departure of KD from the Thunder to that of a bird leaving its nest, looking for something else… And, like those left behind, we just watch him go. Because we can’t stop him. He’s not ours. He never was.

 “And when I awoke I was alone, this bird had flown
So I lit a fire, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?”

On July 4, when the news broke, I was crushed. Now that I’m over the anger, I guess I get it. He’s NOT required to make us happy. He has his own life. He can do his own thing. We’re not his bosses. We’re just fans. We’re just awestruck Oklahomans looking for a distraction from our lives.

I guess I just thought that meant something more to him. As naive as that sounds. But you have to understand where that naivety comes from – more on that in a bit.

Now, I’m in the sports business. I’ve seen people come and go on teams, people who I didn’t have any “feelings” for. People like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, James Harden – heck, even DeMarco Murray… people who are huge stars, or huge in the hearts of people who cheer for the Sooners, haha… DeMarco left the Cowboys to join the Eagles (then was traded to the Titans, thanks Rod Walton for checking my memory!) and I hated it, but I didn’t take it out on HIM. It didn’t feel personal… I didn’t love LeBron’s approach to “The Decision,” but it didn’t affect me personally. Just kind of made me roll my eyes.

So why do I take Durant’s departure so seriously?

Before I tell you, I want to set up a scenario. I just got back from a trip to Oklahoma last week. I flew first class, because I can every now and then and not feel guilty about it. Often, on my trips out of Bristol, CT., I am joined by a colleague on the plane. This time, it was a very well-known college sports anchor who, knowing my favorite teams, asked me in a very frank manner if I was OK after Durant. It’s like they’re asking me about a death in the family. Hushed tones, head down, eye contact – “Are you OK?” All he needed to do was hold my hand and pat my head.

“He’s just not who we thought he was,” I said. He looked at me like I was crazy. “I don’t agree with that,” he said… but nicely. He doesn’t understand our naivety.

I tried to explain, as I’ll do here…

kdsonicWe thought he was ONE OF US. Oklahomans believed that, for once, someone chose us first. Someone, who wanted to play in the state of Oklahoma FOR MONEY, BY CHOICE, not just for the good ol’ football team. Not to ride Bob Stoops’ coattails to an NFL job. Someone who chose to live their life WITH US. Someone who was just doing it for the fans, and falling in love with our state, which WE all know is great, but suffers from a lot of bad press. And bad politics, but we manage to overcome that. Someone who could help us grieve our many tragedies.

Many people question why we choose to live in Oklahoma. It’s poor, there are tornadoes, there’s “nothing to do,” it’s hot, it’s broke… you name it. But hey, guess what? Many of us were born there, and realize its beauty regardless of the bad press. It’s like a huge secret to Oklahomans – we don’t get why YOU don’t like it. That’s on you!

And yes, I got out – but I left for the best job a sports journalist could have, or I’d still be there. I’d be demanding a change politically, but still. (Living up here in Yankeeland, my vote FINALLY COUNTS!)

But I chose to make Oklahoma my home for 37 years. OK, choice isn’t the right word. I was born there. But I chose to stay after I graduated college. I worked long, hard hours for the newspapers in Oklahoma. I made lifetime friends. I ALWAYS had something to do. In the words of Jerry Garcia, “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart… you just gotta poke around.”

My people are buried there. It’s home, and it always will be. I miss it every day, though my life path has taken an interesting turn. But I resent the notion that there’s “nothing to do” in Oklahoma. I resent the idea that we’re all stupid and unable to do anything else, so we just stay. I resent the idea that we’re all racist welfare queens with little to no ambition. Oklahoma GAVE me ambition, education, and a deep love of people. A deep respect for nature, kindness, and love. A love of the land. I left after years of hard, gratifying work with some of the best people I’ve ever known. I left after doing everything I could in Oklahoma. I left because I needed another challenge.

KD left because he wants a ring. An easier road to a title. A trinket. An accolade. He doesn’t want to be in charge anymore, and he doesn’t care how he gets there. I thought he was … tougher?

THAT’s what I meant by “He’s not who we thought he was.”

kdmoore

Kevin Durant was so kind to the people of Moore after the tornado, donating $1 million from his own pocket. That’s one of the reasons we thought he’d stay.

KD presented like a man of the people, even though he’s a Longhorn, haha. We believed, perhaps foolishly, that he LOVED US! Just the way we are. He gave us many great years. He visited the Murrah Building and took new players to the Memorial. He picked up debris left from countless tornadoes. He spoke like us, heavy on the “y’all.” He was in Sonic commercials. HE PLAYED FLAG FOOTBALL WITH US. He hit so many late-game shots, we came to count on him.  Like he could somehow solve every problem we’ve ever had as a state. Undo the race riots. Undo the stupid abortion laws and Ten Commandments debacles. Fix the teacher salaries and wage gaps.

We all got mad when a rogue copy editor used the headline “Mr. Unreliable” after KD missed a big shot in the Playoffs. REALLY mad. We took to the radio waves to tell him how sorry we were about that, to try to let him know that no, we don’t all feel that way. Please stay, we almost begged. He seemed to accept our apology, on the court at least.

We felt his physical pain. We studied his foot from every angle when he missed most of last season. We knew all the foot ailments he could have, how he may have what Yao Ming had, how he may never recover… and then, when he returned, we cheered like he was our son.

I actually called him “my son KD.” I loved his mom like she was the governor. Hell, she could have been! She’s be an improvement even with no government experience.

I sound silly, and certainly not journalistically ethical. But I didn’t care about my bias (plus, I’ve been in the biz long enough to separate myself from real bias.) My first year at ESPN, I sat in a crowded newsroom with famous TV people and watched KD sink a 3 to beat the Mavs. I heard one of our most famous anchors shout “THAT’S WHAT WINNERS DO.” He wasn’t on air. He was just watching KD work. I felt so proud of him, like the world was seeing him through our eyes, FINALLY!

When I first read his anemic Players Tribune note that he was leaving, I felt nothing for a few days. It honestly felt like a breakup. I, fortunately, was off work, so I stayed away from SportsCenter and tried to stay away from the stories. After a few days, I began to read the Internet again. Many people were laughing at us Oklahomans, making fun of us for being so “butthurt” and behaving badly.

Many people thought it was just hilarious. Especially former Sonics fans. I get that, but 1) don’t sell your team to known land thieves (Sooners) and 2) be better fans. I know you find our pain hilarious, but keep in mind, we’ve attended EVERY GAME. Even the shit ones. Where were you?

To us, it’s not funny at all, of course. Because we don’t have a lot more options. The Thunder are our only pro team, and KD was our franchise face. He was our first, our last, our everything. KD was the choice of a new generation. KD was the great lanky hope. And now, he’s gone. Just like a bird.

I’d watched him since his freshman year at Texas, just barely 18. All 6-9(ish) of him, unable to lift the bar to benchpress. Lanky, but more Dirk Nowitzki that Dirk. He always looked kinda sad, or just determined. Like there was something going on behind his eyes.

“He was no more than a baby then. well he seemed broken-hearted, something within him…
But the moment that I first laid eyes on him, all alone on the edge of 17.
Just like a white-winged dove.”

But now, he’s a full-grown man with his own life and a new start. We had to free him from the nest. But I’m not happy about it. I know that may sound weird to people NOT from Oklahoma. But we’re very proud of those we call ours. We’ll claim just about anybody, too. Because WE know what makes Oklahoma great. WE know why we stay. We don’t understand why people leave unless they have a damn good reason. And we don’t get KD’s reasoning.

I love him like a son, though I don’t know him personally, as odd as that sounds. I want the best for him. I just had hoped the best was our home. It’s not. But I get it. It’s his life. I’m not mad, just disappointed.

And he can’t expect us to be happy about it. He can’t expect us not to be disillusioned. He seems angry that we’re angry. WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? And I ask, KD, that you leave the villain routine alone. It’s not your strong suit. Just be a man and take the boos. Don’t be a dick. We raised you better than that.

We thought he was an Oklahoman-in-the-making. Instead, he’s a bird that’s flown to better, easier terrain. And Oklahoma is left to clean out his nest, hoping we can make it with what we’ve got. Because we’re very, very proud of what we have. And we intend to keep it in working order.

Russell Westbrook, if you’ve got hero mode in you,  and I suspect you do, now is the time to become one. The state is yours. Please respect it. And if you leave, do so after winning. And please don’t join the enemy. We can’t take it again.

But Kevin, I wish you sorta-kinda well. I hope you realize someday how much you were loved, and what you meant to us. What you could have become to us. Josh Heupel will never forget… you were above him in the hierarchy. But still, thank you for everything. Thank you for those late-game shots that made us so sure you loved us… but we get it. It’s not us, it’s you.

Vaya con dios.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under ESPN, Family, Haters, Kevin Durant, Moving, NBA, Oklahoma, Russell Westbook, Thunder

An open letter to star athletes from a media member (with love)

You have no reason to know who I am – and that’s OK with me. I’m not the story here.

But I am a member of “the media.” I’m not sorry about that, either.

You see, just like a lot of words that have become victims of overuse, the words “The Media” now have a negative connotation – like the words liberal and conservative. These nebulous, undefined groups of people are placed in these categories, and it’s like signing your birth certificate – it can’t be changed. You ARE THE MEDIA. You’re with us or against us. You’re someone who fawns over us, or you’re a detractor.

The media itself has become a sort of whipping post for athletes. Not that the media isn’t used to it – over the years, it has taken the blame for various and sundry illnesses, conditions, social behaviors and accidents in athletic and news fields. Your kid is a hellion? Media. You don’t like the president, or what he’s saying? Media spin, liberal media, lamestream media. Tired of nearly-naked people gyrating on TV? Clearly all the media’s fault. Your kid saw something violent on the news and re-enacted it? Not the parents fault – it’s the media.

Or my personal favorite: “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

Did you ever have to do something that you knew you were going to get yelled at about? Did you ever think, “God, I wish I didn’t have to do this, but my job requires it of me.”

Well, Marshawn, and those he’s inspired with his faux-rebellious “revolution” against the media, guess what – we’re just doing our jobs so we don’t get fired. And we know you hate it, but we have to. Just like you have to lash out because you’re so very tough.

The media, you see, didn’t just decide to cover you one day. The media, your red football for anger lately, has been kicking with you since that first scout saw some potential. The media – or maybe, just one member of the media – saw you one day and said, “Wow, check this dude out. The scouts were right. I’m going to watch him, write about him, do a Sunday package about him.” That reporter, or editor, or columnist, became, in essence, a fan with a pen and forum. You were the new subject line, and we had to learn everything we could about you. FAST.

In fact, Marshawn, when you were in high school, you welcomed the media. You shouted into microphones about winning your high school state title. You beamed with sunshine and light as cameras captured your real feelings about the win:

You were joyous. Funny. A pleasure.

Then you went and got too big for your britches, as we’d say in my home state. And we, the media, had a hand in creating some of that too. But instead of saying, “You know what, I don’t really want to talk about this –can we just talk about the game? Or whatever” you decided to make it personal.

I’m not saying the media is perfect. Heavens to Betsy, no. But in Marshawn’s case, and in those under the cascade of ire that fell beneath him, it seems like you just want a kick dog, a cause, something to be angry at. SOMEONE TO BLAME. I want to remind you of this – we’re people too. And athletes used to say they didn’t care what people wrote, didn’t care what reporters said about them. Something changed, and I’m not sure what it was, other than maybe social media.  Do you like it when you’re blamed for losing a game? Of course not. We hate losing at our game too.

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, two of my favorite athletes ever, are buying into what Marshawn was selling, and so will countless others. Marshawn, trendsetter and junk-grabber that he is, created a wide-open path of hatred that can easily be trod, with him skipping down the center of the aisle, strewing vitriol left and right like an overgrown flower girl. Others saw how much attention the media gave his antics and thought, you know what, I’m sick of them too. Russ and KD are angry, which, as a fan, kind of excites me. They’re taking on an “us vs. them” mentality, which is sometimes good for the win-loss column. But, as a member of the vile “media,” I am kind of scared by this too.

Selfishly, I want my guys to be the good guys. I want them to be the guys in white hats, not a bunch of Bill Laimbeers (though I’d like to see more Laimbeer style on the court!) I like my media darling KD. I love being able to say, “He’s one of us Oklahomans.”

But they’re mad. And I kind of get it. I really do. Having to sit at a table surrounded by people clamoring to know more about you — that’s got to be hard. Now that I work for the Worldwide Leader in Sports, I understand the push and pull from us vs. them. We swarm, like other members of the media. We are always there, watching you play, following you on Twitter and Instagram, tracking your every move. We say things about you in print that are hurtful sometimes. We write headlines that we didn’t mean (Mr. Unreliable, anyone?) We jump on you when you’re down, and we probably don’t do enough to tell you that you’re doing a good job. Because we’re the biggest dogs on the block, we absorb the most hits. But we’re ESPN, so we can take it. (But it does suck reading bad things about your business all the time on Twitter.)

I am a good empathizer. I can understand how it must feel to be under the microscope your entire career. I can understand how you just really want to be left alone, how you think we don’t know what we’re talking about (agreed, we sometimes don’t), and how you just want to get away from all of it and be by yourself and not deal with any of this.

Now I want you, dear athlete, to empathize a little. Do your part – it’s that simple. Show up, play the literal game, then the figurative one after the game – the media part.

Think about it – you’re a big enough deal that the entire country wants to see you on TV. You’re a big enough deal that people write about you on a daily basis, checking your stats, your trends, your ebbs and flows, EVERY SINGLE DAY.

You’re a big enough deal that kids, adults and grandparents wear your name on the back of a T-shirt or jersey TO CHURCH.

Now, if we, the media, ignored that, we’d be sucking at our jobs. Most of us are just as competitive or fiery as you (though not in as good a shape, we admit.) We want to be good at our jobs. We want to get a scoop. And some of us don’t do that in the best ways.

But we, really, aren’t a “we.” Behind all of it, we’re people, writing about people. Sometimes writing about people makes people mad. But you move on – and you should too, athletes. Move on – read something else. Pay no attention. Quit saying you ARE paying attention in the media scrum. Comments like “You don’t know anything” and “You’re just the media, I hate you” don’t do much for me, and make you look small in my mind. Plus, it creates a hostile workplace for us. More and more athletes will join this crusade against the media, when really, they should just weather the storm and keep moving. And fans are joining in now too. The same fans who will buy our papers by the dozen when they have your face emblazoned on the cover, hoisting some sort of trophy over your head. They’ll love us then. For the moment – the ever-fleeting moment.

Because guess what? Just like our non-athletic asses will someday be dragging the floor, yours might too. This “blame the media” thing won’t fly if you’re not performing. It just won’t. It will look weak. Marshawn’s antics came from a catbird seat – he’s at the peak of his game now. We just sit in awe as he slashes and burns his way to the end zone (and in my case, turn around in disgust when he grabs his business. I mean, come on, it’s gross) and can’t say much else to him, because, well, he’s a stud. Same can be said about many athletes today who are angry at the media.

 

But we have to report about them NOW. Someday, we won’t. Someday, their stars will fade. Someday, when their knees have been surgered too many times to count, they might see what we were trying to do – build around the excitement of THEM. Of that moment. Of that One Shining Moment. We were giving them a moment – THEIR moment, that they earned. Do you want future fans to look back at you and think, “Why was he such a jerk to the media?” Maybe you do. And that’s your bidness.

I don’t blame you for being annoyed sometimes. Super Bowl week, during the whole Marshawn situation, I tried to get to the bottom of who assigns these guys to talk, who enforces them to come to the podium, if it’s part of their contracts. Well, it’s not an easy answer. It’s a little of this, a little of that. Media participation is included in contracts, as well as mammoth TV deals that give teams and leagues huge amounts of cash to play with and millions of eyes watching. Deciding who has to talk to the media  involves the team, reporters, publicists, and the league itself, as well as the league’s union and Collective Bargaining Agreement. The league and team don’t come to the media’s defense during the Blame Game, even though they, too, have a hand in sending athletes to the podium. But they sure don’t mind letting the media be The Fall Guys. I can’t say I blame them. Pretty smart move, actually.

So just like you, the athlete, think you’ve got it all figured out, look around – is it really JUST us that’s doing all this to you? And in the grand scheme of things – considering that there are starving people, kids being killed, etc. – is it really THAT big of a deal?

I guarantee you, any – ANY – athlete struggling to come up would trade spots with you. Why not enjoy, endure and excel? Be the bigger person. Channel your inner David Robinson.

DeMarco Murray, or St. DeMarco as he is known in Norman, Okla., said it best during Super Bowl week. I can’t find the exact quote, but it went a little something like this: Yeah, it kind of sucks. But it’s an obligation. I’m lucky to be here. I can do this and I won’t be any worse for the wear (unless I say something stupid out of childishness.)

I guess what I’m saying is, lighten up, guys. You have won the Life Lottery. You make billions in your career to play a game. Just talk to the media, play your game and WIN. Then they won’t have much to say to you, except WOW GREAT JOB.

I am bothered by how many athletes are turning against the media. I want us to get along. I want us to be able to tell your stories, and I want you to be able to tell us how you feel, or how the team feels.

We are not evil lying manipulators  — well, not all of us. We are literally the narrators of the game – the ones who write what you just saw and try to give you some context surrounding it.

We just want to get along with you, share the arena with you and the fans. Most of us – not all – but for the most part, we just want to do our jobs.

We’re just here so we won’t get fired.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under ESPN, Haters, Kevin Durant, NBA, Politics?, Russell Westbook, The Media!, TV