When I was elected to the Oklahoma Senate in 2006, a long-time legislator warned me, “A lot of people are gonna act like they are your new best friends.”
He wasn’t kidding. People always smiled at me as I walked the halls. “Good morning, Senator!” I received lots of invitations to dinner. Some of this attention even came from people who I knew didn’t particularly love my left-of-center worldview.
Once I became a “has-been” former legislator, most all of that went away. The world runs on self-interest, of course, and with my political power and relevance gone, so too went the efforts to make me feel important, well-liked and special.
Thunder superstar Kevin Durant doesn’t need anyone to make him feel well-liked and special, but when the Oklahoma Hall of Fame inducted the 27-year-old NBA player as a member this month, it looked like our state was pandering in the face of Durant’s looming free agency decision.
Now, before you send me hate-email for insinuating that we are inauthentically nice to KD only so he will grow old in Oklahoma City, give me a chance to explain. First, I am not arguing that. My over-the-top comparison of small-time politics to global athletic superstardom was only meant to get at one important phenomenon: the apparent desperation of taking affection too far.
Maybe it’s just me, but I always thought halls of fame were for when a person is about done with her or her amazingly impactful career or life. I have always seen them as a “body of work” honor. Sports halls of fame, in particular, require a certain number of years to pass after retirement before a legend can even be considered for membership.
The NFL requires at least five years. National Baseball HOF candidates also must be retired for five years, and they must have played a minimum of 10 years in the big leagues. Obviously, each institution can set its own criteria. Here at the NonDoc Hall of Fame, a writer is eligible right away, so long as he or she is halfway OK with getting paid terrible wages and likes the occasional free OKC energy ticket or six-pack of beer.
I am sure Kevin Durant met all the basic criteria to be inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame last week, and if it means anything, I really like to watch KD play basketball. My two sons’ obsession with him may just barely exceed their love of me. Seriously. By all appearances and inside sources, KD is a great guy off the court as well. He has made a huge impact on our state, and has improved Oklahoma’s image, something we need help with.
But do these positives somehow hyper-accelerate his induction into an exclusive club of Oklahoma greats at the ripe young age of 27? Or did the looming chance that he will bolt to another team at season’s end hyper-accelerate it? Maybe I’m wrong and cynical. Maybe he does truly deserve this honor now. Maybe my lifetime-achievement view on the honor is too rigid.
The problem is, regardless of the intention by that committee, it sure looks like pandering. It sure looks a little desperate.
I would hope Durant stays in OKC on the merit of his opportunity to win a Championship here, just as I hoped those powerful lobbyist and establishment figures at 23rd and Lincoln made me feel liked and respected for my policy intellect, not because they need a few Democrats to come along and help pass a bill every now and then. KD is going to continue to make a lot of money, no matter where he plays in 2016 and beyond, and he is always going to be popular, unless he somehow becomes the Bill Buckner of last-second title shots.
Just as I’m an amateur new media site publisher, so too am I a wanna-be sports commentator. But here goes anyway: I think KD is a bit more concerned with the chemistry on the bench and in the locker room than he is with ingratiating honors in the community. He will receive those honors wherever he goes, and he will deserve them (in due time) when he gets them. But the metrics of his big, Summer 2016 decision will be centered around how the risky coaching change looks come June and what other, less-cumbersome pathways to a title may be out there elsewhere.
At the Oklahoma Hall of Fame ceremony, KD was seated next to my father’s old law partner, Bill Ross, someone who literally has spent decades making an impact in our state, most notably through his role in establishing the Inasmuch Foundation. I guess I am more old-fashioned than I thought because I think people like Mr. Ross are the figures who have truly earned honors over a lifetime, where history can also validate their impact.
When you go down the list, you see names like Ralph Ellison and Jeane Kirkpatrick that look like they belong there. Oddly, Garth Brooks — a born Okie — has yet to be inducted into the hall of fame, and he has been a global superstar for decades. Similarly, Charlie Christian‘s name is absent, despite his substantial international influence as a musician. (By dying at age 25, was he too young to meet the Oklahoma Hall of Fame requirements? If only he had lived to KD’s ripe old age of 27.)
In all, this extravaganza raises many questions:
- How is the committee going to look if KD jumps ship next summer for a more promising option?
- Do we expect him to keep a presence in the state he undoubtedly impacted so favorably?
- With Russell Westbrook eligible for free agency at the end of next season, will we be inducting him into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame next November?
Ultimately, perhaps the better gesture — and one for which the optics might have seemed more genuine — would have been to invite Kevin Durant back to Oklahoma when he was long retired from the NBA. Then we could have honored him in this manner for the way he contributed to our state and the world over an entire career. The honor could have been for the time he spent here and the time he perhaps (God forbid) made his mark on other places.
As an Okie, I want talented folks to want to be here and help us be awesome. But I’m not going to look like I’m begging.
So, Oklahoma, even if we aren’t begging KD to stay, we should probably try to stop looking like it.