West left a lot of money on the table to pursue a ring with the Warriors, like a sucker.
© Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Last night, David West got into history's most expensive viral basketball tangle.
Kyrie Irving, after beating Steph Curry on the dribble (again) and managing to get a decent layup attempt that fell off the rim, ran around to the other side of the basket when West got the rebound and managed to force a jump ball. West, strong, managed to yank Irving and the ball around after the jump was called, dragging the small guard behind him.
Tristan Thompson, enforcing, decided this represented a kind of danger to his smaller pal, and opted to get into West's personal space. West, not wanting to be the lesser Tough Guy, shoved his face DEEP into Tristan's, sort of blurring the line between headbutt and kiss, until their teammates converged to yank them apart. Very macho, very alpha, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
David West has, all his life, pursued this moment, the golden ring of doing a bunch of fake-ass tough guy shit in a Finals game. It has no doubt lived in his dreams since he was 15 years old. While most kids would play-act in the driveway like they were drilling the game-winning shot, West probably set up an inflatable water-weighted punching clown and manufactured some obscure resentment that he could extract vengeance upon in the critical moments of a Finals series. This was the manifestation of a lifetime of hoping and dreaming.
But at what cost?
There is a type of person who is spending time today dragging on Kevin Durant for leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder and throwing the balance of the NBA into the shitter in pursuit of a title. I think this take sort of misunderstands the incentives at play and misreads the series as it played out.
Durant took less money and sacrificed profile to win, yes, but he was still the best player on an NBA championship team, and that's a lifelong meal ticket etched in stone. You'll be in the Hall of Fame, you'll get commercial work like 20 years after you retire, the basketball history books will be embossed with your picture forever. Durant really did personally pull the team over the top, over-performing in game after game and sealing the title. He really was the brass-ballsiest dude on the team in difficult moments against the Cavs, and clearly the best player on a team whose core had already won a title.
Rather than criticize the clear difference-maker, we should save our ire for David West, who will not be remembered as the man who single-handedly flipped the balance of power in the NBA.
You might recall that West was a member of the 2013-14 Indiana Pacers, which started out strong as hell and looking like a genuine title contender in the East, slumped to the end of the season after its offense fell apart, and wound up getting beat by the last-ever Miami Heat squad of note. The entire vibe around that Pacers team turned very sour very fast. Paul George broke his leg in the off-season, the Pacers missed the playoffs in 2015, and West sat around and frowned and groused to anyone who would listen.
That year, despite being in line for a starter spot at a mid-level type deal, West did some insane shit: he opted out of his contract with the Pacers, passing on about $11 million, and took the minimum to join the San Antonio Spurs, an already hefty team that had just signed LaMarcus Aldridge and looked (to anyone who wasn't intimately familiar with LaMarcus Aldridge) like a genuine title contender.
West played well, but the Spurs were eventually crushed by Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semis. Once again, he could have probably made more money, but chose instead to keep this sad-ass title hunt going by joining Durant in going to the Warriors. This year, he averaged 12.6 minutes and 4.6 points a game, got into a hilarious Game 5 fracas, and hoisted a trophy.
A certain type of person will tell you that what West has given up in the pursuit of pure victory is noble—the sign of a true winner, or some shit like that. They are wrong. David West has basically given up $20 million-ish dollars so that he could be the eighth-best player on a team that won the title.
Now, I suppose you could say, Who cares? Money isn't real, what if we all decided it was worthless one day? Whatever. And yes, that might be true, but you know what has even less assigned value than money? Titles! You can't do shit with titles! You can't buy anything with titles, you can't feed anyone, you can't build anything, you can't do shit with a 12.6-minutes-a-game title except:
- Produce a small bit of dopamine remembering you have one.
- Demand a fancy ring from your boss for having one.
- Add it to your resume at trading card conventions, which won't even exist in, like, 15 years because people are slowly figuring out that signed trading cards have even less real worth than both money AND titles.
- Use it to meet the President. (Whoops. In fairness to West, though, having this particular President seemed pretty unlikely when he signed with Golden State.)
West forsook his ability to extract fair compensation from management, all in pursuit of something that holds little or no value to a rational person. He played right into the NBA's prestige trap for no reason other than a thirst for marginal glory and a chance to get his eyes soaked with champagne. These are the actions, in short, of a sucker—someone who let the meta-narrative that sports leagues sell to the public to seem important blind him to the real-life incentives that actually drive rational players in the pro sports economy.
If the Warriors are going to continue contending, they're going to need more suckers like West to sign on to their Megazord squad for next to nothing. The Dubs are frightening, and will be frightening for the next four to seven years, but they are also capped-out as fuck and playing in a state with a steep income tax. Without the assistance of thirsty, ring-chasing competition-boys like Dave here, Golden State could easily find themselves playing their starters 45 minutes a game just to avoid putting Michael Carter-Williams on the floor at the beginning of the fourth quarter.