It’s the last scene of 2008’s superhero classic (and in my opinion, the greatest superhero movie ever made) ‘The Dark Knight’. Batman takes the blame for murders committed by Harvey Dent, aka ‘Two-Face’, to protect Dent’s posthumous identity as Gotham City’s shining White Knight. In doing so, Batman has to face the wrath of society as a criminal and flee, turning his status from heroic saviour to villainous murderer. And at that moment, as he announces his decision to Gotham City’s Commissioner James Gordon, he quotes Gordon’s own immortal words about Dent’s transformation from a hero to a villain.
“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
It’s a simple philosophy that reflects not just human nature of heroic morals but also the nature of the society that surrounds them. Public figures aren’t perfect – politicians, cricketers, musicians, humanitarians, good-willing businessmen – and sooner or later, even the people best intentions will be exposed for their flaws, their mistakes, and sooner or later, they would become villainous to some, if not to all. It happens over and over again in human history. The only way that a famous individual universally escapes the wrath of society is when they pass away – or ‘move on’ from their respective fields – before their time.
Take a look at some of your favourite NBA players and try and find one who, eventually, hasn’t found his critics. These superstars are some of the best in the world at what they do and have more admirers than the average player. But there has been a price to pay for fame: the more time someone spends in the spotlight, the more their faults are highlighted. Admiration rises exponentially with criticism.
They might be the most loved NBA players in the world, but they happen to be the most hated. The media has a big hand in this, labeling players (fairly or unfairly) for their minutest shortcomings. Kobe Bryant is criticised for being too selfish, for taking too many bad shots, and for his off-the-court controversies. LeBron James is criticised for his ‘Decision’ to leave Cleveland, for his arrogance, for his late-game stutters, and for not being a champion yet. Dwight Howard faces flak for being limited with offensive moves, for his power-moves that hurt his team and his coach, and for his immaturity. Chris Paul is hurt too often. Dwyane Wade complains to the referees too much. Dirk Nowitzki is too one-dimensional, too soft. Rose shoots too much for a point guard. Carmelo Anthony is a coach-killer who doesn’t defend and can only play his way. Russell Westbrook is selfish and makes bad decisions. Blake Griffin can’t shoot the free throw and he complains too much, too. Rondo doesn’t have a jump-shot. Bosh and Gasol are soft. Bynum is immature. Ginobili is a flopper. Duncan is boring. Garnett is a ‘fake tough guy’. And so on and on and on….
A villain for one is a hero for another, but few remain heroes for all their time. Even the greatest – Michael Jordan – had more than his share of critics who despised his selfish early days with the Bulls, his over-competitive nature that even hurt his teammates, or his much-publicised gambling problem.
Of course, not all of these players had been assigned these negative stereotypes from Day 1. They ‘earned’ it over the years by being in the spotlight. They were the ‘heroes’ for so long that, eventually to many, they became villains.
There is still one young gun left, who is – more than any other NBA star of our time – universally loved or admired by all. At 23, Kevin Durant has already become a 3-time scoring champions, raised the Oklahoma City Thunder to become championship contenders, branded as one of the two best players in the NBA, and enjoyed a little time in the spotlight too. And somehow, despite his growing fame and status, Durant has so far been able to remain flawless in the public eye. He may have ‘lived’ only five seasons in the NBA, but during this time, he has enjoyed an unblemished career to become a superhero in the eyes of many.
And how, in the cold-hearted world with the media vultures swirling around every celebrity to strike them down, has Durant been able to survive as everyone’s favourite despite not being an underdog (it’s hard to be an underdog if you’re the most purely talented player to enter the NBA over the past half-decade?) His public image has been caused by a mixture of outside influences, his own personality, and of course, his beautiful on-the-court play.
Playing in small market Oklahoma City helps, where the media may be a little less ruthless than out in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, or Miami. Being the leader of the NBA’s youngest and most exciting team helps too, as the Thunder have quickly made themselves everyone’s second-favourite team. But it’s Durant’s style of leadership which has given room to his co-stars to grow, and yet allowed him to be the biggest star that has gained him numerous more admirers. Durant scores a lot of points, and he scores a lot of clutch baskets too: everyone likes that. Durant shows no ego, and yet, he shows no fear either.
LeBron James had an hour long television special to announce his decision to leave small-market Cleveland for Miami. Durant announced his extension with small-market Oklahoma City simply via a twitter update to his fans. Durant was active during the lockout to provide NBA-starved fans with the maximum amount of entertainment, and his 66-point performance at New York’s Rucker Park made him a legend and a people’s champion. He remains humble when called the best player in the league and yet, remains deadly when he is asked to go out and prove it. It’s been a strange combination of humility and confidence, of embracing fame but not letting it get to his head, that has made Durant NBA’s ‘White Knight’.
Trust me: I wish Kevin Durant very well. He’s one of my favourite young players in the league, and particularly as the current playoffs have progressed I have truly begun to believe that – taking all things into account – he is the most talented player in the NBA today. But I also know how the world operates, how the innocence of everything good and beautiful and perfect eventually gets spoiled by the media and our own desire to create villains.
Will Kevin Durant be a flawless hero for the rest of his playing days? Or will the spotlight finally begin to show his blemishes, too. Will some fans hate him for being too quite or at times, too submissive to Westbrook? Will some fans hate him for not having the greatest post game. Will the media finally get tired of his humble/good-boy act and demand that he show some nastiness to keep us entertained? Will the fact that he can’t create his own show like LeBron, Wade, or Rose cause us to immediately declare that he is a flawed player? If he doesn’t win a championship this year, and then again next year, will we begin to wonder – like we do with LeBron – that he doesn’t have the Championship it-factor?
The fact that I’m even wondering this actually makes me admire Durant even more, because it makes me realise that he is on-court skills and his personality have already made him into one of the most likeable players in NBA history. He’s a unique talent, a player with the height of Blake Griffin and the jump-shot of Ray Allen, coupled with a rare personality mix of Duncan’s silent, selfless leadership and Kobe’s end-game determination. He had done (and is doing) so many things right that it’s difficult to find flaws in him.
I hope it doesn’t happen, but one day, some people will find a reason to hate Kevin Durant, too. Like all the other players before him, he too, is mortal. Mortals make mistakes and all mortals are different, so it’s impossible that he will keep all of us always satisfied with his style of play and his personality.
That dark day may yet arrive someday: Batman had to become a villain to keep Gotham happy and NBA stars have to become villains too to keep the fans entertained. But for now, let’s celebrate the unique mix of niceness and dominance that Durant possesses. He will be our shining White Knight until that ‘Dark’ day.
And just like the upcoming sequel to the Batman series – we can then look forward to the Dark Knight ‘rising’ again!