We’re all pretty familiar with former Major League player and manager Leo Durocher’s famous quote that “nice guys finish last.” While it is hard to really verify that, and some would take umbrage with that notion (usually those who finish last), does it necessarily mean the opposite is true? Is being “bad” part of the recipe for a championship? Well, there is plenty of evidence to suggest as much.
The Detroit Pistons claimed back-to-back NBA titles in 1989-1990 by being possibly the most-hated group of athletes in America. Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas thrived on being bad, to the point they embraced the whole “Bad Boys” moniker. Their city loved ‘em even as the rest of America despised them. It suited them well.
A decade or so earlier, the Philadelphia Flyers, AKA the “Broad Street Bullies,” terrorized NHL opponents with their brazen aggressiveness that literally left their opponents bloodied. Players like Dave Schultz and Reggie Leach ran roughshod over opponents as the Flyers claimed back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 1973 and 1974.
Even further back there is plenty of evidence that being bad led to being good.
Hall of Famer NFL player Art Donovan regaled fans for years by telling stories of how seemingly bad behavior equated to winning. Donovan memorably even told the story in his book “Fatso” of how players would fling elephant dung at opponents after the circus had visited town and left its, er, mark on the playing field. Donovan won back-to-back NFL titles as a defensive back with the Baltimore Colts in 1958-1959.
Of course there are plenty of examples today of supposed bad guys, or at least guys with attitude, winning titles. LeBron James was seen as the ultimate villain until recently, and parlayed attitude into winning by claiming an NBA title with the Miami Heat over the Oklahoma City Thunder last season.
Which brings us to Kevin Durant, a nice guy who needs a little badness injected into his game.
Durant arguably is the best player going in the NBA. He is deadly down the stretch and elevates his teammates around him. He is destined for a title, hopefully with the Thunder. Durant displayed a little attitude of his own when he received his first-ever ejection, getting rung-up with two technical fouls in OKC’s 110-93 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday.
The frustration and anger was understandable, after all, the Thunder were about to lose to a P.J. Carlesimo-coached team. That’s the same coach who went 1-12 as the Thunder’s head coach in 2008 before he got the ziggy and was sent packing.
It’s not that Durant did anything necessarily beyond the pale, but he did apparently express in no uncertain terms his dissatisfaction at some no-calls, and with 1:57 remaining in the game was tossed.
“I think I’m allowed to be frustrated, especially in this league full of ups and downs,” Durant said afterward. “Players are allowed to be frustrated. It is what it is.”
OK, that’s not exactly Laimbeer-like, but for soft-spoken, nice-guy Durant, it was a veritable tsunami of attitude. And, admit it, it was good to see KD getting riled a bit. It showed the fans and his teammates an edgier (badder?) side of the Thunder superstar, which is something that is going to be needed if OKC, as expected, is to make another title run.
Last season the nice guys didn’t finish last, but they were only second-best. If getting his first-ever ejection means developing a little bit of an edge, and sends a message in the process, that can only benefit Durant and the Thunder.
And if that’s not enough, a circus could always be booked at Chesapeake Energy Arena the night before a game.
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the
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