Throughout his career, Kevin Durant has been asked many times about Washington, D.C. He grew up not far from the city, in Seat Pleasant, Maryland, and in 2013 he brought reporters to see the small house where his grandma lived and the big hill where he’d done grueling conditioning drills. On Sunday, the second day of training camp for the Golden State Warriors, Durant walked off the court following a morning of practice and sat down to field a new set of questions about the nation’s capital and how it might figure into the Warriors’ plans for the future.
Two surreal days earlier, Durant and just about every one of his teammates (and his GM, and his coach) had been asked at the Warriors’ media day whether they’d be visiting the White House, as is the general custom for reigning athletic champions. Players ranging from Durant to Steph Curry to Andre Iguodala had been outspoken in the offseason about their lack of interest in shaking hands and posing for photos with Donald Trump. They and the rest of the team planned to sit down as a group and then decide exactly how to proceed with the fraught ceremonial gathering. As it turned out, they wouldn’t have to.
On Friday’s media day, Steph Curry commented, “I don’t want to go … that’s the nucleus of my belief.” America woke up on Saturday morning to a @realDonaldTrump tweet uninviting the Warriors altogether, a strategic move that head coach Steve Kerr, speaking later that day, likened to preemptively breaking up with someone before they can dump you.
Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
On Sunday, Durant wasn’t interested in discussing things like Carmelo Anthony being traded to his former Oklahoma City Thunder, saying that he was only focused on the Golden State Warriors. He was more expansive, however, when the subject turned to the Warriors’ planned trip to Washington, D.C., in February. The team, he said, would use its time in the city to throw their own shindig, rather than attend someone else’s.
“We’re still gonna go through with the celebration,” he said. “I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but I’m sure we’re going to think of something creative and cool. We don’t just want this to be about us not going, but about us celebrating our championship and celebrating what sports means to the nation as a whole.”
Donald Trump’s rescinded invitation was part and parcel with his “son of a bitch” rant at an Alabama rally on Friday night that was followed up by a series of tweets castigating NFL players who protest police brutality during the national anthem. Unsurprisingly, the reactions to all this quickly spread outside of the Beltway—and even across the pond to London, where an NFL game in Wembley Stadium began with players kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” and then standing during “God Save the Queen”—and enveloped leagues ranging from MLB to NASCAR.
“It’s a crazy, crazy world we’re living in,” Durant said, “especially when our president go at people on Twitter, but that’s just the nature of the beast right now.” His teammate Iguodala also spoke to reporters on Sunday. “I really didn’t have a reaction,” he said about seeing Trump’s tweet about Curry and the Warriors. “I’m just numb to things like that. It’s not a surprise. It’s not something that moves me or my thoughts. I’m not surprised, that was it. I was like, OK, we’ve got practice.”
In Oakland on Saturday night, A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell, who grew up an Army brat, became the first Major League Baseball player to kneel during the national anthem. “More power to him,” Durant said when asked about it. “He’s standing up for something great. We all respect it, support it, and appreciate it.” The town of Berkeley braced for a “Free Speech Week” appearance by provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos on Sunday, an event that was canceled, though Yiannopoulos still found a way to call NFL players “spoiled brat millionaires.”
i don't know anything about baseball but i know bruce maxwell is my favorite player https://t.co/VoJMvPE1yb— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) September 24, 2017
Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis, himself a millionaire, had previously opposed his players protesting while in uniform. But he changed his tune before the team’s Sunday night game. “The streets have gotten hot and there has been a lot of static in the air,” he said in a statement to ESPN, “and recently, fuel has been added to the fire. I can no longer ask our team to not say something while they are in a Raider uniform. The only thing I can ask them to do is do it with class. Do it with pride. Not only do we have to tell people there is something wrong, we have to come up with answers.”
Every NFL game involved some sort of demonstration during the national anthem; some players stayed in the locker room, some kneeled or sat, some locked arms on the sidelines. (“Standing with locked arms is good,” Trump tweeted. “Kneeling is not acceptable.”) At Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, the Sparks waited until after the anthem to come onto the court, and the Lynx stood with arms chained together. Not everyone moved in lockstep: NASCAR owner Richard Childress threatened to fire drivers or crew members who tried anything of the sort; the Stanley Cup–winning Pittsburgh Penguins reiterated their intention to visit the White House.
“Sports is the United States,” Durant said when asked about the NFL protests. “Sports is what brings us all together. A couple hours out of the day you see people from different walks of life coming together to celebrate sports.”
Before he spoke to the media, Durant did play some actual basketball. Near the tail end of practice, he and Curry worked with assistant coach Bruce Fraser on some methodical shooting drills that gave a glimpse into the almost incomprehensible focus and discipline required to become one of these millionaire athletes. Fraser fed them basketballs again and again; they practiced catch-and-shoot moves then one-bounce stepbacks, first with their right hands and then with their left, and at one point, when Durant caught a pass awkwardly and bricked a shot from the corner baseline, he seemed genuinely pissed off, audibly castigating himself as a “fucker.” And all this work was just some tiny fraction of the end of one minor practice over the course of an almost endless NBA season.
The Warriors are only two days into these practices, and a good half of the questions they’ve answered have been about things other than rotations, jump shots, the addition of Nick Young to the roster, or what they did with their summer vacations. Instead, the topics of Trump and political protests and White House visits have loomed, and it’s hard to anticipate when or if this will stop. Most NBA teams don’t start their camps until this week; this is only the tip of the iceberg. The pregame ceremonies of NFL games will be watched (or performatively not-watched) more closely than ever. Tomorrow, the U.S. Olympic Committee will hold a four-day media summit for many of its highest-profile Winter Olympic hopefuls. Before the last Winter Games, a common question during this event was about host nation Russia’s oppression of LGBTQ individuals. This time around, athletes will surely be answering queries about the goings-on in their home country.
“I’m not a real big politics guy,” Durant said, “but I know right from wrong, and I feel like I know how people are supposed to be treated. And [Trump and I] don’t agree on those things. And that’s what men do, they disagree. And I go my way, and he go his way.”