Exhaustion is a legitimate reason for Kevin Durant to withdraw from Team USA in advance of the FIBA World Cup. It just might not be the only reason.
We're not huge conspiracy-theory buffs. We're always careful about trying to avoid the trap of connecting dots that aren't actually there. But when major shoe companies get involved, it is worth taking a harder look.
Durant is reportedly on the verge of signing an endorsement deal with Under Armour worth $30 million a year. In contrast, his deal with Nike, which expired last week, had been $60 million for seven years. Nike also has the contract to outfit Team USA.
Those are the facts. File this conclusion under the category of educated speculation: The impending Under Armour contract might have nudged Durant into leaving Team USA. For $30 million a year, Durant might not have felt quite right about being UnderArmour's marquee NBA client while being seen in Nike gear.
Consider this analogy. A high school student picks a college because it is close to home and he is getting a full scholarship. Two perfectly good reasons to choose that school. But his girlfriend is also going to go to that school. Maybe if she had opted to go elsewhere, he still would've made the same decision. Having her go there as well just made the decision that much easier.
Durant's burnout is real. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman has detailed breakdown of just how much ball Durant has played:
With another 73 playoff games since 2010, including three conference finals appearances in the past four seasons, Durant has played an additional 3,090 postseason minutes, third most in that stretch behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Mayberry also wrote that Durant's expected transition from Nike to Under Armour could be a factor in the decision. But he didn't suggest that it was done as a way to sticking it to Nike on his way out.
Another serious consideration for Durant was likely understanding his window of opportunity to win an NBA championship, particularly when put in context with the season-ending injury Paul George sustained at a Team USA scrimmage. Here is the analysis from ESPN's J.A. Adande:
Like our hypothetical high school student, Durant doesn't need any more reasons to make his call. But Under Armour's denying Nike one last chance to feature KD on Team USA becomes the girlfriend's choosing the same school.
If all this conjecture about an ulterior/secondary motive seems outrageous, egregious and preposterous, we still remember the flag flap from the 1992 Olympics -- involving Nike. The Dream Team's gear was Reebok. On the victory stand, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley -- both Nike guys -- covered up the Reebok logo by draping themselves with an American flag. Magic Johnson, a Converse guy, did the same.
You don't have to be Oliver Stone to view Durant's decision as Under Armour covering up Nike's logo at the World Cup.