Kevin Durant has a big decision to make.
This summer, after his juggernaut Golden State Warriors steamroll their way to a third consecutive NBA championship, they‘ll pack up their stuff and depart Oakland for a new home in San Francisco’s Mission Bay. Durant might accompany them across the bridge to the glitzy, futuristic Chase Center, or he might hop on a plane for the East Coast and join the New York Knicks in storied Madison Square Garden, the so-called Mecca of Basketball.
More to the point, he’ll also be weighing his financial options. His current team could offer him a five-year, $221-million deal, while a competing suitor like the Knicks might shower him with $164 million over four years.
It’s a choice that’s been getting a ton of scrutiny: Which multi-million-dollar contract will he sign? The media has been eager to find out the answer, but Durant has rebuffed their curiosity. On Wednesday, the star forward expressed his irritation about the continued speculation over his professional future, laying into reporters following a blowout win against the Spurs.
“Y’all come in here every day, ask me about free agency, ask my teammates, my coaches, you rile up the fans about it,” he fumed. “ Yo, let us play basketball.”
His defensiveness is justified, and not only because constant hounding by the press over off-court business distracts from on-court action. Durant should hope the media stops paying attention to his contract issues because otherwise, people might finally wake up to how completely ridiculous it is for someone to get paid nine figures for putting an inflatable ball through a metal ring.
In fact, it’s not just ridiculous — it’s disgusting and demoralizing. Another contract issue that made headlines in Oakland this week proves why.
On Monday, the news broke that the city’s public-school teachers authorized their union leaders to call a strike. They’ve been working without a contract for more than 18 months, and for an average annual salary of roughly $63,000.
By comparison, Durant’s current contract pays a base salary of $30 million for this season, which pencils out to about $365,000 per game.
The Oakland Unified School District pays the lowest wages of any school district in the Bay Area, and many of the city’s teachers struggle to make ends meet. They’ve been under increasing economic pressure as the cost of living has skyrocketed across the region, fueled in part by the astronomical success of Silicon Valley venture-capital firms — outfits like Kleiner Perkins, the workplace of Joe Lacob (who owns the Warriors and cuts Durant’s hefty checks).
Lacob may lose Durant’s services this summer, but that poses a negligible problem for the team compared to the likelihood that OUSD will lose a fifth of its teachers if recent yearly attrition rates hold steady. Oakland teachers are departing their jobs at double the national average, and for other reasons besides insufficient income. They’re also burned out, tired of managing overcrowded classrooms with insufficient resources in underserved communities.
The strike, if it happens, will aim to address working conditions as well as pay. Union leaders want the district to hire more counselors and school nurses, implement smaller class sizes, and bump up salaries by 12 percent over three years (the district’s offer is 5 percent).
Although the recent success of a strike at Los Angeles schools has given hope to Oakland teachers, they still face an uphill battle. Their district is grappling with a $30 million budget shortfall this year, and officials expect that amount to double next year. Declining student enrollment has exacerbated the financial crunch, and the district has proposed closing or merging schools in order to trim expenses. The union is likely to encounter some degree of public criticism for demanding higher pay under such dire economic circumstances.
Durant, too, has received his share of vitriol from pundits and fans across the sports landscape — but mainly in the form of complaints about his cranky attitude, or in asinine debates about his legacy. Rarely does anyone wag a finger at him for how much money he earns, and if anything, you’ll hear people assert that he ought to grab as much cash as he can, based on some perverse notion that he has earned it. As if putting that inflatable ball through that metal ring half a dozen times in one night should somehow be worth the labor of six teachers for an entire school year. As if any one individual human being should be entitled to a couple hundred million bucks for playing a kids’ game.
The sad irony here is that plenty of Oakland kids have limited opportunities to play that game. My own son attends an Oakland public school that can offer only 30 minutes of physical education per week and has no gymnasium. If he or his classmates ever get the chance to set foot in the Chase Center — and that feels like a longer shot than the ones Steph Curry famously heaves from the Oracle Arena tunnels during warmups — then the sheer opulence of the place might make their heads explode.
We should heed Durant when he beseeches the press to let him play basketball. And while we’re at it, how about we find a way to let our kids and our teachers do what they want to do, too.
Alec MacDonald is married to an OUSD teacher and is the father of an OUSD student.