It’s been quite the few weeks for athlete comments made supposedly just to a media figure being aired on air. First, there was Julio Jones’ phone call with Shannon Sharpe live on Undisputed, which reportedly didn’t come with any notice to Jones that he was on air. The situation that’s now popped up with Jay Williams and Kevin Durant is a bit different, but there’s some overlap. Specifically, on Get Up (Mike Greenberg’s Morning Hot Take Parade) Tuesday, Williams relayed quite the comments from Durant (seen above during a Jan. 1 game) on air amidst a wider discussion about him, saying Durant once got mad at him at a holiday party for making an on-air comparison of Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. For some reason, ESPN sub-brand The Undefeated tweeted the clip:
“Don’t you ever compare me to Giannis” – Kevin Durant told Jay Williams put some respek’ on his name.pic.twitter.com/Ed04jM0TLr
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) June 8, 2021
“So a couple years ago, we’re at a holiday party, and I came on this show, and I did a segment with you, and I said ‘We had Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant. If Anthony Davis and KD were to have a baby, the similarities physicality-wise would be like Giannis. I go to the holiday party and Kevin comes up to me like ‘Yo, don’t you ever, ever, compare me to Giannis. Don’t you ever compare me to Giannis.'”
“I go ‘KD, what are you talking about? I was just talking about similarities physicality-wise, size, length.’ He’s like ‘No, don’t you EVER compare me to Giannis.’ So when I see that matchup, you know what that matchups says to me? It says there’s something personal for Kevin Durant. That’s who he’s attacking each and every day, that’s who’s been in his brain, because people have talked about him and Giannis being on the same level. That’s the intensity you’re seeing in this rivalry.”
We’ll get to a fuller discussion of those comments and the appropriateness of sharing them on national TV in a moment, but before that, it’s worth noting that Durant (@easymoneysniper on Instagram) called this whole thing “a fuckin lie” in the comments of a post on this from Sideline Sources:. Here’s that exchange, shared on Twitter by @TheHoopCentral:
Kevin Durant calls ? pic.twitter.com/DgwD02s7vI
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) June 8, 2021
There are a couple of different things at play here. First, and most importantly, there’s Durant disputing this account as “a fuckin lie.” It’s unclear from that if Durant is saying that there was never any conversation with Williams along these lines, or that there was a conversation, but Williams is relaying it inaccurately. Either of those complaints is a problem for Williams and ESPN, but the former option is worse; if Williams created this story from whole cloth, that’s a bigger problem than if he and Durant remember a conversation from years ago differently. But, of course, the latter option there isn’t great either, and it shows a big problem with relaying comments from a years-ago party live on TV, and particularly in doing so with exact phrasing and quotes that try to present the story of “Durant said this thing this way.”
Even if Durant hadn’t taken to Instagram to dispute this story, this still might not have been a great approach for Williams and ESPN. Yes, this is a long way from the Sharpe-Jones incident at Fox; Williams wasn’t directly putting Durant on air unbeknownst to him. And comments at a party aren’t necessarily immune from all reporting; a lot of factors can influence that, from the size and purpose of the party to the nature of the comments to who they were addressed to to which reporters were involved. But even if Durant hadn’t pushed back on the specific comments here, this didn’t seem like a particularly worthwhile story for Williams to tell, especially with some debate over the circumstances in which those comments were obtained and how accurate Williams’ recollection of them is. And, as with Sharpe’s Jones phone call, this might be something that leads to athletes being more careful with what they say to or around Williams in the future.
There are a few further complicating factors in this situation. Both Williams and ESPN have had business relationships with Durant in the past, particularly around the ESPN+ show “The Boardroom,” which Williams hosted, and which was a joint venture between ESPN and Thirty Five Ventures (Durant’s production company with his agent, Rich Kleiman). So, depending on when these comments were made, Durant may have seen them as comments to a coworker rather than a media member.
Beyond that, Durant does have his own history of unusual media behavior, from texting a reporter to try and set up a question about Skip Bayless to failed attempts to defend himself with burner Twitter accounts to getting fined for using homophobic and misogynistic language in DMs to Michael Rapaport. And just because he calls something “a fuckin lie” doesn’t mean that it actually is, especially as it’s not clear whether he’s disputing if the entire exchange happened or just some of Williams’ wording in relaying it. (It certainly could be interesting to see if anyone else comes forward as having overheard that conversation, if it happened, and to see what their recollection of it is.) But, at the moment, Durant comes off looking better here than Williams or ESPN. And his “Jay Williams can NEVER speak for me, ever…” line sure suggests that he and Williams don’t have much of a relationship left.
[The Undefeated on Twitter; photo from Brad Penner/USA Today Sports]