The tyranny of the pre-ordained narrative returns to Oakland Thursday night when the Oklahoma City Westbrooks come to the Nickel-Dime to face up to the Golden State Durants, and the winner will be determined by the insincerity of the visible pregame greeting.
This is life with the new granular Warriors, where all things run through Kevin Durant, and all things Kevin Durant run through Russell Westbrook, and while we’re at it, all things Russell Westbrook run through Kevin Durant.
It almost makes you forget that the season starts in April.
But that’s the one problem with the current fetishizing of the Warriors – the dramatic moments (even the largely meaningless ones like whether Durant and Westbrook are still friends, or whether they ever were) before April are so few that the ones that do crop up take on absurd lengths.
I mean, let’s be honest. It’s a handshake and a hug, or it’s not a handshake and a hug. To think it has a greater significance is almost to imply that Durant needs this pregame to be a happy and noncontroversial one, as though this were the final table at the World Series of Poker rather than Game 5 of the season, and that individual whims matter more than the interlocking parts of a team.
And maybe that’s the pre-flop story, to exhaust the poker analogy – whether one man’s molten fury can find satisfaction in raging against the machine that just turbocharged itself with his former teammate.
This being the NBA, you bet the machine. The machine rarely loses, last June notwithstanding. Golden State is the machine, the system team that decided to break down part of its system to take on an exemplary individual and see if he can make the system better.
So if you have a rooting interest between the genius soloist and the veteran jazz ensemble, this game has everything you want.
But the chosen plot line of Westbrook-Durant ignores the rematch between Draymond Green’s left foot and Stephen Adams’ legacy satchel, which was one of the massive turning points in the Warriors’ postseason because of what it foretold one series later. Of course, nobody wants to do a longform story on Adams’ delicates, and Green’s foot is barely more interesting.
And there is also the alternate-universe line in which Oklahoma City doesn’t blow its 3-1 lead (the 3-1 lead that hasn’t become an internet meme), and knock the Warriors back on their heels to the point where Durant decides to stay with the Thunder either to defend a championship or to restock for a another run at the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Instead, Thursday’s game is being forced through the strainer of Westbrook’s working relationship with Durant, what form it took when they were teammates, what form it takes now, and the level of satisfaction or resentment each feels at its termination. And it will be evaluated via the essentially meaningless gesture of a public pregame acknowledgement, the ultimate definition of empty calories.
In short, we are dealing here with rooting interests and style preferences rather than anything enduring or meaningful – and maybe that’s how it should be, given that this sport and not politics.
Well, okay, maybe politics is a bad example.
And maybe Thursday’s pregame and game is really just a matter of preference – whether you prefer this story to the matter of who wins or loses speaks to how you prefer to view your athletes and enjoy your athletics.
Maybe Russell Westbrook-v.-Kevin Durant is really about you rather than them, in which case this game is DIY sports of the rawest form, where you make your own game and decide how to score it. The only problem being, of course, that if you’re really more interested in how Westbrook and Durant handle their reunion than in the game that follows, you’ve got a whole evening ahead of you with nothing to do. That's the problem with pre-ordained narratives -- you often lose sight of the potential for surprise, like, say, Adams inadvertently kicking Green in the how's-your-father.
And what, ultimately, is the fun in that?