Remember when Kevin Durant said he was the best player in the world and people acted like that was a big deal? I do, and it bothers me a little because of the way we want athletes to behave in this country. “Humble” is one of the buzzwords athletes have been brandishing in press conferences and interviews for years now. It’s used as though the athletes are assuring us that they wouldn’t dare to think too highly of themselves despite the fact that they’re better at what they do than just about everyone else in the world is at doing anything.
As I mentioned in my HGH piece awhile back, players in the NBA are among the 450 best players in the entire world, putting them in the top .000000075 percentile of people when it comes to playing the game of basketball. This is an incredibly small pinnacle of achievement that deserves to be acknowledged, not minimized, especially among the best of an already elite club. I’m not saying we should deify athletes, but expecting them to be regular, everyday guys and girls is ignoring the only thing we really know about them: how exceptional they are in their field.
I don’t have any evidence that we, the fans, ever asked athletes to act this way, except that a lot of them do. Most famous athletes have, (as they should) publicists and image consultants who tell them what to say and how they should act in the public eye, and those people’s jobs are to know what we want to hear. It’s entirely possible that athletes are incredibly humble by nature, but I think it’s more likely that they know, or have been told, that fans will like them more if they seem more relatable and down-to-earth.
Regardless of whether we feel this way, it’s simply not a reasonable expectation for athletes to be humble about their abilities, especially for a player like Durant. When do you think was the first time KD played against someone who was better than him at basketball? It probably didn’t happen until he reached the NBA, and even then, the players who were better than him were established NBA veterans. Today, there are maybe three guys you could possibly consider to be better than Durant (provided he’s healthy and can return to form), and if he honestly thought any of them were better, he wouldn’t be the kind of person who could turn himself into one of the four best basketball players alive.
Durant has been slowly moving away from his nice-guy persona with statements like these, and I’m glad because I’m sick of us expecting athletes to be something they’re not. Durant isn’t some “aw shucks” kid who’s just happy to be here. He’s an exceptional human being who has an extraordinary amount of talent and put in an extraordinary amount of work. Thinking he should act like an average person, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is unfair to him and all professional athletes.