When Lebron James and other Black athletes assert their independence and leave their team — or the plantation — some white fans engage in 21st-century lynch mob activity. This time around, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder is the latest to feel the wrath of fans who assumed they owned said player — or any player.
Durant announced that he is leaving the Thunder and heading to the Golden State Warriors:
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) July 4, 2016
The 27-year-old forward made the announcement on The Players’ Tribune, of which he is the deputy publisher, graciously explaining the rationale for his decision.
“This has been by far the most challenging few weeks in my professional life. I understood cognitively that I was facing a crossroads in my evolution as a player and as a man, and that it came with exceptionally difficult choices. What I didn’t truly understand, however, was the range of emotions I would feel during this process,” Durant wrote.
“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction. But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth,” he added. “With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.”
The NBA star also expressed all that the Oklahoma City organization and community means to him, and his gratitude for the relationships he built.
“I’m from Washington, D.C. originally, but Oklahoma City truly raised me. It taught me so much about family as well as what it means to be a man,” Durant said.
“Kevin’s contributions to our organization during his nine years were profound, on and off the court. He helped the Thunder grow and succeed in immeasurable ways and impacted the community just the same,” said Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett, in a statement on NBA.com.
Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti added that “Kevin made an indelible mark on the Thunder organization and the state of Oklahoma as a founding father of this franchise. We can’t adequately articulate what he meant to the foundation of this franchise and our success. While clearly disappointing that he has chosen to move on, the core values that he helped establish only lead to us thanking him for the many tangible and intangible ways that he helped our program.”
The move by Durant is worth $54.3 million for two years. And his decision could be fueled as much by his desire to win championships as his desire to have access to Silicon Valley moguls to fuel his humanitarian projects.
Meanwhile, the reaction to Durant’s departure from the Thunder bears similarities to Lebron James’ 2010 departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers, and then some. Some white Thunder fans have taken to shooting and burning Durant’s jersey, reflecting that state’s legacy of lynching those African-Americans who assert their independence, economic power and self-determination. Think of Black Wall Street, the Black community of Tulsa that was burned to the ground and massacred by a white mob.
A video posted by Sports Videos (@houseofhighlights) on
— Jacob Puma (@Jay_Pums) July 4, 2016
— Nick Medina (@rapfavnick) July 4, 2016
I wish Durant would have stuck around like the plastic this jersey was made out of pic.twitter.com/jhl7iLuy4e
— Jacob DeLaughter (@jakedelaughter) July 4, 2016
The reactions are rather personal, for an otherwise ordinary business decision and career move made by a free agent in a professional sport.
People in OKC are NOT happy with KD. Here’s Big Rich, who runs the Pink Parrot, one of the best bars out there. pic.twitter.com/62xIVxmf99
— Landry Locker (@LandryLocker) July 4, 2016
One man even posted a video of his young son crying in response to Durant leaving the team:
— Terry Rimmer (@T_Rimm) July 4, 2016
Meanwhile, these most recent white reactions to an NBA player exercising his independence do not exist in a vacuum. As NBA players, who are majority Black, earn millions of dollars for their labor, the predominantly white owners, networks, corporate sponsors and others make billions and more. And yet, while these Black men generating revenue for professional basketball are millionaires, they are regarded as high-priced slaves on a plantation, and expected to know their place and behave as such.
Bryant Gumbel characterized the NBA’s business model as a plantation, with the role of a master presiding over Black athletes. “Stern’s version of what has been going on behind closed doors has of course been disputed, but his efforts were typical of a commissioner who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys,” Bryant said of then-NBA Commissioner David Stern on HBO’s Real Sports in 2011. “It’s part of Stern’s M.O., like his past self-serving edicts on dress code or the questioning of officials. His moves were intended to do little more than show how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in their place.”
“Please don’t put up another basketball court thinking that you’re giving back to the black community … basketball courts are a training ground for a basketball plantation” said Nation of Islam leader Min. Louis Farrakhan at a Saviours’ Day event in Detroit in February of this year, as reported by TMZ. Farrakhan compared professional sports, including the NBA Draft, to a slavery auction block in which Black athletes–who often have no training in handling finances–are exploited. “We got bought and sold just like that … and that’s what you do in sports” he said. “You run up and down the field, you show them how swift you are, how clever you are. And they’re sitting there watching you, timing you … that’s a good one, I’ll get him, I’m drafting him.”
So, when the slaves leave the plantation—such as Durant declaring his freedom; Jesse Washington speaking out against Black oppression at the BET Awards; Beyoncé making a pro-Black statement against police brutality at the Super Bowl, or a Black man occupying the White House—the result is white backlash, white tears and white rage. This, as whiteness and the institutions undergirding white power are placed under increasingly intense scrutiny.
“The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem; rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship,” wrote Dr. Carol Anderson in her book, “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.” “It is blackness that refuses to accept subjugation, to give up. A formidable array of policy assaults and legal contortions has consistently punished black resilience, black resolve,” she added, noting that white rage maintains both the upper hand and the moral high ground in society.