NBA fans, or sports fans in general, always have the presumptive need to make mythical arguments about who's better from this era compared to that era. It's annoying on one hand given that all answers are immediately considered as both right and wrong depending on what the other person says.
Nobody wins with these types of debates and yet, there's also something intrinsically beautiful about arguing the merits of one player from the '70s and comparing him to a player from the 2000s. These type of debates are the lifeblood of NBA fandom because they either bring out a fan's genuine and somewhat impressive knowledge of the game, or they expose somebody who merely talks straight out of his ass and grasps any nugget of trivia or statistic to validate his point.
In the world of the NBA, these questions aren't limited to Player A vs. Player B or Team A vs. Team B. We could do that but it would either be overdone or completely arbitrary because of circumstances that prevent us from making a proper comparison. Instead, we're going to tackle one question that will literally force people to pick a side without having to feel the need to hate on the other side. We're not going to hurt anybody's feelings here, or at least try not to. We're simply going to ask the question, give our points for each, and as always, let everybody else air their side.
The question: Rings or loyalty?
The case for rings
By now, a lot of you have probably heard the phrase "it don't mean a thing without the ring." That phrase was pounded into our heads when the Golden State Warriors lost the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers by fans and media folk alike who consider hardware as the most important indicator for success. They're right on that point. What’s the point of competing in the NBA if you're not trying to fight, claw, scratch, and kick your way to a championship? There is none.
All the greatest players are deemed great not only because of their superfluous talents, but because they have the jewelry to back it up. Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, and Tim Duncan all won their titles on the back of being the cornerstone of their respective franchises. Some greats like Shaquille O'Neal, LeBron James, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won titles with more than one team, but does anybody count that against them? None of these greats chased any rings, not even LeBron contrary to what some might feel about him moving to the Miami Heat in 2010. He won two titles with the Heat and he was the Finals MVP both those times. Hardly the qualification of a ring-chaser, right?
What's a ring-chaser?
The way it's said is the way it means. To be fair, it only becomes relevant—as far as debates go—to great players who spend the majority of their careers trying to win a title as the foundation of one team and then bolting for another team for a chance at the gravy train before it completely dries up. Gary Payton, Karl Malone, and Jason Kidd have been branded as "ring-chasers" in the twilight of their careers because they couldn't get the job done when they were the leaders of their own team. It's not a fair assessment, but it is something that fans have come to point out, especially in the case of Payton, who established a Hall of Fame career with the Seattle Supersonics, only to jump from one team to another to chase the hardware before ultimately getting one with the Heat as a backup point guard.
Kevin Durant, right or wrong, has also been branded a ring-chaser for leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the same record-breaking Warriors that already have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Is he a ring-chaser, or is he the final piece to the puzzle that establishes the Golden State dynasty for years to come? The jury is still out on that.
The case for loyalty
You want to know an unnerving fact about the NBA? Every year, 30 teams compete to win the NBA championship, and of those 30 teams, only one accomplishes that mission. It’s a sobering reality to think that there are a number of so-called greats that have become Hall of Famers in their own right, but never got the chance to win the title at any point in their careers. But they stayed with just one team throughout their careers and they won and lost with that team. That's something that no amount of money or titles can be bought. That's what a lot of people refer to as loyalty to the cause, no matter how high or how low it got. Reggie Miller is the modern-day embodiment of that. He never won an NBA title with the Indiana Pacers, but he played his entire career with that team. He's ring-less, but he got this reception from his fans in his last game.
Need a tissue?
The whole concept of "loyalty" to a team has become endangered in today's NBA. Think of a superstar who has never won a title but has stuck with the same team for at least 10 years. Any names come up? Dirk Nowitzki has played his entire career with the Dallas Mavericks but he has a title. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have played for the San Antonio Spurs their entire careers but they have four titles between them.
The answer to that question is easy: 0.
That's what makes the case of Miller so poignant. It perfectly illustrates that winning a ring doesn't define someone's greatness, it simply enhances it.
The crux of KD
The treatment Reggie got from his fans in Indy now puts a lot of pressure on Kevin Durant. He wanted to validate his career with a ring and as his right; he went and looked for the best opportunity to do that. He played it smart and nobody should begrudge him for being smart about his choices. But there is a crux, one that Durant will never have the chance to get back.
When he left for the Bay, he closed the door on getting the Reggie Miller treatment from his fans in OKC in the event he never wins a ring. He's not getting that now and the only way for him to find vindication for his choices is to lead the Golden State Warriors to another title, just like LeBron James did with the Miami Heat.
Anything less and history will paint a completely different picture of him. Right or wrong, that's what this whole "rings vs. loyalty" argument boils down to. Great players can and should put themselves in the best position to win, even if it means leaving the team that nurtured them to becoming the superstars that they are now.
But there's a price for doing that. If KD never ends up winning a title with the Warriors, there's no point in knocking on that Thunder door anymore. That door was locked the moment he closed it and in so doing, he left behind the reverence, love, and support of the Oklahoma City Thunder fanbase.