By: Jeffrey Newholm
Man has always been fascinated by the idea of a Utopia: a perfect society or world where everything is pristine. Many writers and theologians in the past have written and dreamed about such a thing. There was Sir Thomas More’s original book “Utopia”, depicting his ideal society. In Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, Rand dreamed of Galt’s Gulch, a perfect capitalist city. And in the Bible’s Book Of Revelation St. John literally dreamed of Heaven, the perfect city and afterlife. In the NBA, where most teams have no real chance to make the Finals, Golden State is that utopia. The team plays free and easy. They win (seemingly) every game. Multitudes of records fall every year. And after the Dubs humiliated the Thunder with an epic comeback last season, Kevin Durant couldn’t take his team’s hardships anymore. He wanted to join the Warriors and live in a perfect world of basketball. But Russell Westbrook stayed behind. In fact he didn’t just stay behind, he signed a multi-year contract extension. But who would do such a thing? What kind of captain would go down with a sinking ship when there are better options out there? But I think I can explain Westbrook’s seemingly puzzling decision. First, however, it would be helpful to consider what Golden State offered for Durant, for the sake of comparison.
For as long as Durant chooses to play out west, there figures to be all sorts of lucrative rewards for his team and his self. The dubs figure to win multiple titles. KD will make millions. He will build his personal brand and reputation. Golden State, indeed, offers all of these things. Here’s one thing the team doesn’t: genuine hardship. Dubs basketball is all fun and games. and there seems very little danger of something going seriously wrong with so many big names on the roster. It’s hard to believe Westbrook didn’t want this, or something like this for a different superteam. But I think this is because he say the Thunder offered something different, something more fulfilling to himself personally.
Consider the justification Westbrook gave for his decision in the current October 24-31 issue of Sports Illustrated: “‘You don’t win a championship every year…The moment, the process, the ups and downs, the bumps and bruises, are special to me. We didn’t win it all, but we became better, we became closer'”. Westbrook has actually savored all of his team’s struggles over the last few years, of which there have been many. And I think it’s because he’s committed to learning and growing as a person, about becoming something greater than his self. There are two main choices man faces in his life: expand the self with success and self-indulgences, or relinquish it through facing hardship. Golden State offers success; Oklahoma City offers hardship. And Westbrook isn’t just facing hardship, he’s facing it voluntarily. I think this is a very noble choice. I think an analogy from literature could help explain the different paths chosen by KD and Westbrook.
One could call Aldous Huxley’s classic novel “Brave New World” a Utopian vision, but in a very twisted way: society is so well controlled and streamlined that everyone lives a fantastic, infantile life of mindless pleasures. Near the end of the book, John, who lived most of his life in an Indian reservation with regular troubles, has a lengthy conversation with the society’s controller. The controller goes on for some length of the measures used to make society perfect, to John’s increasing chagrin. Here’s his memorable line in response to the controller’s boast that all troubles have been removed: “Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether ’tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them [an allusion to Hamlet’s famous Soliloquy]… But you don’t do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It’s too easy.” I see Durant as the basketball version of the controller, and Westbrook as the “John the Savage”, as he’s so called. KD wants life and ball to be perfect, Westbrook prefers going the tough route. The whole point of the book, of course, is that John is in the right. Suffering is how we all mature and advance spiritually. When everything’s going well in our lives, we may be happy, but we’re not making any true emotional progress. That, I think, is why Westbrook signed the extension–and why I believe it was the right choice.
As KD continues to win in Oakland, most will say he made the right choice, the easy choice. But I think in the grand course of these two men’s lives, Westbrook will actually be the one who makes it further ahead. 40 years from now, the Golden State superteam will be forgotten. KD will be yet another old-time great for the record books. There will be new basketball dynasties, new superstars. I see KD winning quite a bit, sure, but what will he actually learn? The Thunder of the next few years are going to lose, and they’re going to lose a lot. But Westbrook knew this full well, and signed up for it. I think he’ll end up better equipped for the course of his life post-basketball, and perhaps even with a better perspective as the end of life nears, many years down the road. So, what do I say of KD’s choice to enter the perfect world, to go to the franchise that will take all his troubles away? I’d call it his loss.
You can follow me on Twitter @JeffreyNewholm and our blog @NutsAndBoltsSP.