For a while now, Charles Barkley's been saying that Kevin Durant will earn the respect of NBA legends when he wins ”a championship as the 'bus driver.” To no one's surprise, Durant vehemently disagreed with Sir Charles, referring to himself as God and saying that position is ”another terrible analogy from a hatin old head that can’t accept that we making more bread than them.”
Unlike Durant, Barkley doesn't take everything too personally. Sir Charles didn't take the bait and calmly explained his point through the s**tstorm that are the Brooklyn Nets.
After dominating with the Warriors, Durant realized Steph Curry would always be the fan favorite in Golden State and decided to pack his bags and leave. While KD says he's ”all about hoopin',” his actions consistently show he's often about being (universally) adored. Being the no.1 guy has the potential of being the fan favorite, but it also means being the most responsible person for success and failure.
Who did KD choose as his no.2? Kyrie Irving. The guy who thinks Earth is flat and speaks in quasi-intellectual mumbo jumbo to avoid any responsibility for his actions. Who did he push the Sixers to go all in for? James Harden, who gets his numbers, disappears in big games and works on his cardio in nightclubs.
After James Harden bailed on him when things got hard (shocking, I know), the Nets got Ben Simmons, the only person less willing to take responsibility than Kyrie and Harden. So when things didn't go as planned, did Kevin Durant step up? Nope, he asked the Nets owner to fire the GM and the coach.
“The problem with Kevin is, when you're the leader of a team, the physical stuff is what everybody sees. But the mental stuff, where you have to be the psychologist for every player on your team, you have to be the buffer between the coach and the players. That mental stress is what Kevin has never proven to me he can handle.” Barkley explained on the Bill Simmons Podcast.
What Durant, and plenty of other stars and superstars in the NBA, don't get is that with status and adoration come responsibilities. Look at every "bus driver" in NBA history - from MJ, Magic, and Bird to Duncan, LeBron, and Curry. They all figured out leadership isn't just about dropping 35 in the playoffs. It's about leading by example and bringing out the best in your teammates.
You can go about that in different ways. Bully them like Jordan or be quiet and supportive like Duncan. But one thing is consistent - true leaders are always the first ones to take responsibility.
How in the hell can Durant be a buffer between the coach and the players if he tried to get the coach fired and still supports Kyrie, who went AWOL in the middle of a season? Can a player like that be the leader that earns Ben Simmons' respect enough to demand he starts playing winning basketball, and it actually works?
KD is probably the most unguardable scorer the NBA has ever seen, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But that's not what makes a leader - and that's what the old heads know is the hardest part of being a superstar. Not just getting your own, but earning the right to demand greatness from others. That's how you become a "bus driver.”