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The pre-backlash to the Nets' potential title, and the (limited) backlash to star Durant's nasty words

The Brooklyn Nets, assuming they return to full strength with Kevin Durant and James Harden back on the court--they lost yesterday with "only" Kyrie Irving--are a fearsome basketball team and clearly a title contender, perhaps a favorite.

They also represent a smart, unsentimental sports entertainment corporation with global ambitions, and they have outperformed the "Manhattan Knicks" (Marty Markowitz's phrase) not only in the league but via other metrics that measure attention.

And now, even, there's a pre-backlash to their potential title.

Newsday sports columnist Neil Best--who by affiliation has to feel a pull to the New York Islanders, Long Island's only team--on 4/2/21 wrote Nets shouldn't be the team to break New York's pro title drought, arguing:
But these Nets feel . . . off. Having them win it all would make for a clunky dramatic narrative.

Would seeing Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden lift the trophy at Barclays Center — or maybe in Salt Lake City — be as satisfying as watching a homegrown veteran such as Josh Bailey, Aaron Judge or Jacob deGrom do it? Um, no.
Well, the Nets may be an extreme version of smart front-office moves (bolstered by location and, of course, public assistance) and player empowerment, but that's part of sports today. We're not in Dodgerland any more.. The fans are just rooting for the clothes. (Remember center Jarrett Allen, he of the giant 'fro and local charitable endeavors? He got shipped out, part of the Harden deal.)

Best is right that the "pandemic has added to these Nets’ challenge of bonding with the city," but the previous Nets never bonded "with the city" either, but rather a large enough slice to constitute fandom, a slice that has certainly grown.

KD and another backlash

There's another easy target: Kevin Durant's ugly, homophobic (though see comments here) words, expressed in private messages made public by media personality Michael Rapoport.

As New York Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica scolded 4/3/21, Thin-skinned Kevin Durant needs to step up to the responsibility of being a star in the big city:
But Kevin Durant wasn’t cool when he got into a vile Twitter fight with actor Michael Rapaport that eventually got him fined $50,000 by his league. The amount of money doesn’t matter, of course. It is tipping money to someone who makes what Durant makes. But the fact of things is that Durant got fined for acting like an idiot, and he didn’t help himself with one of those sports apologies that isn’t an apology at all.

“I’m sorry that people seen the language I used,” Durant said. “That’s not really what I want people to see and hear from me, but hopefully I can move past it and get back out there on the floor.”
Lupica calls Durant a "good guy" but says he hasn't met the responsibility of New York.

Maybe there's more to it. In SBNation's OutSports, columnist Cyd Zeigler wrote yesterday that NBA, Nets, coaches and players have all botched the response to Kevin Durant’s anti-gay comments. He wrote:
So how did almost every single one of them [NBA figures] respond to Kevin Durant — one of the league’s biggest stars and a future Hall of Famer — using literally the most graphic homophobic language I’ve ever seen from a professional athlete?
Crickets.
The NBA fined Durant $50,000 for the infraction. No suspension, which we know is what speaks volumes to players. Fines for someone like Durant are truly meaningless. He will literally more than pay off this fine halfway through the first quarter of his next game.

In contrast, professional leagues across other sports have utilized suspensions, even when the language was not heard publicly.
Zeigler notes that then-Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard--a lesser player, of course--used an anti-Semitic slur during a video game and was quickly traded and is now out of the league.

He notes that the NBA supports gay players and Durant would support a gay teammate, but this isn't about that:
This is about the fear that resides in those players, in college players, and for the thousands of gay high school and youth basketball players who just watched an NBA star use some of the most homophobic language I’ve ever seen from an athlete, and then watched the league look the other way.
Zeigler says the Nets "have also handled this with weakness," with a deflecting quote from Coach Steve Nash about "a private conversation" and that "we’ll keep all that stuff internal." And he couldn't even get a statement from the team.

I'd add that Nets governor Joe Tsai has tried to distinguish himself with a $50 million social justice fund in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. That's gotten a lot of good press.

But cracking down on a superstar? Not gonna happen.

Flashback

Somehow I'm reminded of that June 2005 quote in the New York Times Magazine from Bruce Ratner, still a relatively new owner of the New Jersey Nets: "The players are terrific. They are of good character."

Um, except for the star arrested for domestic violence.

That doesn't put Durant in Jason Kidd's league. Words are not acts. But it's risky to put sports stars on a pedestal.

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