Feb 3, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
To compete at the highest levels, Michael Jordan channeled something inside himself, something dark and menacing.
Sometimes, it made him really unlikable, even to his teammates. But it also separated him from several similarly talented players to the point there’s little debate about the greatest player of all time.
Jordan’s mean streak both helped him win six championships and embarrass himself during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. He couldn’t turn it off. There was nothing phony about it.
Because Jordan has become the standard for any wing superstar that has followed him, several members of the current generation have tried to emulate Jordan’s competitive nature – not only in intensity, but style too. Kobe Bryant flashes a similar rage at times, and after resisting for a while, so has LeBron James.
Kevin Durant, though, has been different.
His on-court persona ranges from calmly focused to jubilant. He never really seemed to be playing from a place of hate – at least until Russell Westbrook’s latest injury.
Since then, Durant’s in-game demeanor has seemed a little more angered, a little more cold. Maybe he’s mad about having to carry the load himself. Maybe he’s mad about critics too quickly writing off the Thunder. Maybe he’s mad about something else in his life we know nothing about.
But he has looked at least a little different, and that’s coincided with him playing the best basketball of his career.
During this stretch, he’s gotten a new nickname – “Slim Reaper.” (Personally, I wasn’t ready for Durant to outgrow “Durantula.” He’s so long, and he’s so skilled, it sometimes seems as if he’s working with more arms than the rest of us.)
He’s also thin and slays opponents, though, so “Slim Reaper” fits the Durant we’ve seen lately. But is this who Durant has become on the court? If so, the nickname should stick. But if he reverts to his previous demeanor once Westbrook returns, it probably won’t fit that well anymore.
If Durant had his druthers, the nickname would change before that.
“I’m here to shine a bright light,” Durant said. “I’m not here to be a guy of, I guess, death. I just like KD better.”
“That name is what it is,” Durant said. “It’s cool to have a nickname somebody else gave to you. It’s kind of weird if you make your own nickname up. But to have that out there, I guess, is cool…Everybody’s been loving the name. I think I’m the only one that really doesn’t like it too much.”
Good luck, Durant. I’m not sure there’s an NBA player who’s expressed more dislike for his nickname than Andre Iguodala, and nearly nobody has stopped calling him “Iggy.”
But if Durant wants any chance of dumping his new nickname, he must return to playing with a little more outward joy in his game, because the Durant we’ve seen lately definitely seems like a Slim Reaper.