The forgone conclusion to the 2016-17 NBA season occurred on June 12, 2017, as the Golden State Warriors, at the behest of Kevin Durant and the little toaster that could, led the Bay Area to its second title in 3 years. As confetti rained down and Wanda Durant jockeyed for national television time with her son’s goatee, I was more impressed by one LeBron James, and the dignity with which he left the court. Dapping up a host of arena workers, giving a quick embrace to little brother Kyrie and gracefully strolling into the visitors’ locker room spoke worlds about his character, but more importantly was symbolic of the right way to understand KD’s Warriors taking the title. Inadvertently, in seeing King James exit the arena, head held high and with the composure of 1,000 Gods, I found solace not only in KD’s choice to go west, but also in Kendrick Lamar’s most recent composition, Damn.
Watching KD and the Warriors steamroll through the playoffs was not the first time I was disappointed in 2017’s media landscape. Exactly one day before tipoff, Kendrick Lamar dropped his much teased, hotly anticipated fourth studio album with which I was less than enamored. Following the metaphorically drenched, jazz-funk trip that was To Pimp a Butterfly I was sorely dissatisfied with his next album best described as “something anyone could make”. That is to say, the unabashedly modern production and unitary point-of-view Kendrick implemented across Damn was far from worthy of my respect, particularly considering how masterfully he approached songs like “U” and “Mortal Man” just two years prior.
But just as LeBron exuded acceptance of the Cavs defeat in 5 games, I realized the same disappointment I felt in Kendrick was applicable, and equally as mistakenly so, to KD.
Creating a masterpiece is something that most people fail to do in a lifetime, let alone replicate. If To Pimp a Butterfly’s cries of “Black Lives Matter!” were synonymous with the 2016 Cavs championship and LeBron’s leadership for the city of Cleveland, Damn is the manifestation of the same driving forces behind Kevin Durant’s move to play in Oakland.
Kendrick Lamar could not create another TPAB, an album which championed the meaning of being Black in America. Kevin Durant could not create another 3-1 lead (only to lose it) over the Warriors to contend for a title. So, rather than taking the easy way out, which I ignorantly accused both of doing, they utilized their talents in the best, most universally acceptable manner (i.e. utilizing trap inspired beats or creating a super team) without diminishing that which made them great in the first place.
In joining the Warriors, KD didn’t “sell out.” Nor did Kendrick Lamar regress by making a more commercially approachable album. Both merely illustrated good judgement and business acumen to maximize their potential in light of clawing at the chance to rewrite history.
KD’s blowing a 3-1 lead to the Warriors in 2016 might ultimately be lost to the greater historical narrative the same way Kendrick’s Damn. should be judged on merits separated from To Pimp a Butterfly’s success. Subsequently, neither phenomenon accompanies the requisite that KD is better than LeBron or Damn. is better than TPAB. Rather, as evidenced by the contentment of LeBron James, these successes will exist in a vacuum, one that remembers greatness not as a measure of how something happened, rather that it happened at all.
What were your takeaways from the 2017 NBA Finals? Drop a line @bjtripleot or at firstname.lastname@example.org.