Convention Week Part Two

On Wednesday, smack dab in the middle of the Democratic National Convention, after denying the “crazy” allegations that Russia was intervening in the election on his behalf, Donald Trump in a press conference said: “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you can find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Referring, of course, to the emails of our former Secretary of State.

Oh, boy.democrat logo

Some observations from the DNC:

1. Bernie Sanders fans were miffed when emails from Democratic party officials got leaked to the public via Wikileaks. Perhaps originally hacked by Russia. The emails revealed that party officials, who claim to be neutral, had brainstormed ways to get Bernie out of the race. These shady tactics caused the chairwoman of the Dems to resign. I would be miffed, too, but by the time the brainstorming took place, the race was long over. A done deal. It didn’t affect the outcome. In a race so consequential, Bernie should have faced reality sooner, for the good of his party.

2. The unifying effort, though, was pretty smooth. Bernie spoke of his “revolution” and fired up his supporters, before urging them to direct this energy in support of Clinton. The Democrats’ platform is way far left, anyways, thanks to the democratic-socialist. Feel the Bern! The “Bernie or Bust” folks who still don’t want to vote for Clinton also need to face reality: Your ideas are in the platform and your alternative is Donald Trump.

3. Obama did a great job describing the virtues and struggles of democracy. Often frustrating, but an essential struggle. Democrats and Republicans compete with ideas, philosophies, and interpretations. Fight passionately for your ideas, convince people of your leadership, and you win– you get to try your ideas. This is healthy. But what Trump is selling, Obama said, are not ideas. He is not a conservative or a Republican. He is selling an image of himself that he hopes resonates with a disaffected population.

4. Trump’s lack of any substantive knowledge whatsoever is tragic for our democracy. Hillary Clinton presented many of her ideas. Expanding Obamacare. Raising the minimum wage. Increased federal assistance for college tuition. Strong economic regulations. Taxing the rich to pay for everything. The problem is that Trump can’t make an intelligible argument. We will not have a competition of ideas. His campaign is about insults and emotions and attention grabbing.

5. The most glaring difference I noticed in the two conventions was the sincerity of the speakers. Most Republican stars stayed home. The ones that spoke either: a) screamed a lot, b) snubbed the nominee, or c) sounded like they had been threatened with torture if they refused to endorse Trump. By contrast, several speakers at the Democratic Convention gave me the chills with their heartfelt conviction. Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Tim Kaine, and President Obama– each spoke earnestly and delivered powerful lines with expressions that could not be faked. Their sincerity must count for something.

Obama said it best:

“Fair to say, this is not your typical election. It’s not just a choice between parties or policies; the usual debates between left and right. This is a more fundamental choice – about who we are as a people, and whether we stay true to this great American experiment in self-government.”

I usually despise the lesser-of-two evils argument, but when the greater-of-two-evils is literally a threat to our democracy, that’s a game changer.

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Questioning the Technological Takeover of Everything

Binary planetA few weeks ago I visited San Francisco, the tech capital of the world. My girlfriend and I decided it would be fun to ride bikes. Using the Yelp app, we found a bike rental place. Google Maps guided us straight to the door, just before closing time. An employee greeted us warmly. Luckily, there were two bikes left. Perfect.

Only– the entire rental system was online, and the employee couldn’t navigate the system to find the specific bikes. We fiddled around on the web, clicking, searching and refreshing pages. Thirty minutes of malfunction later, we finally cracked the code, rented the bikes, and rode off.

But the irony stuck with me: a bike shop, two bikes, two people with money unable to rent bikes. Sophisticated technology was not necessary for this transaction.

Last week, Southwest Airlines cancelled 1,150 flights in 24 hours due to computer malfunctions. A glitch caused errors in scheduling flight crews. Apparently no alternative scheduling mechanism was in place.

What caused the glitch? What causes a computer to randomly freeze? No one knows and usually it doesn’t matter– just reboot or update the software.

Except that the first fatality in a self-driving car just happened. According to the manufacturer Tesla, “Neither autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.”

So where can we attribute blame for this kind of error? Tesla asserts that, even in autopilot, the driver retains responsibility for accidents. At this stage, the vehicle is “semi-autonomous,” and cannot be expected to detect everything. Now we know at least one blind spot. Trial and error.

Certainly– digital technology improves efficiency in many areas. With the internet, a world of information is at our fingertips. Communication channels are endless and instantaneous. Innovations like Uber and Airbnb are transforming sectors of the economy. Perhaps self-driving cars will make the road safer, and are a better societal investment than revamped public transportation.

But some sobriety is needed.

Digital technology is not a saving grace. People found bike shops before Google Maps. Planes flew before mobile check-ins. We shared photographs before Instagram. Friends and relatives kept in touch before Facebook. Political and social revolutions shook up the world before Twitter.

Our default to technological solutions is misguided. Handing tablet computers to crummy schools will not improve education. Online connectivity does not automatically enhance our communication, but often provides anonymous cover for hateful rhetoric. Internet access does not make us wiser. In a sea of information, the competing onslaught divides our attention, producing shallow bursts of thought. The most effective online political movement so far has been The Reality TV Show Host hijacking the Republican party.

My personal qualms with technological takeover of everything began with my very fist blog post in 2011, an essay titled The Watson Problem. Named after the IBM computer that is currently the closest thing to artificial intelligence we find in the marketplace.

My conclusion to the essay, and my continued qualm, is about the intentionality of our tech indulgence. Do we use our technology with a specific purpose in mind? Do we develop technology to solve a specific problem? Or rather, do we indulge blindly with what’s new and interesting and possible?

People often say new technologies are tools, like anything else. Yet often, tools supposedly for communication, entertainment, and information merely enslave us to devices and their updates. Craftily engineered behind the scenes to increase clicks and ad revenue. Our brains hooked on the dopamine rush.

As the world goes searching augmented reality for Pokemon characters, I would simply propose some perspective:

The more important functions of life we turn over to digital world, the more consequential the “glitch” or the “hack” will become. The more unconsciously we succumb to our devices, the less conscious we are of actual reality, the physical people in our presence, the physical environment which sustains us.

If our online communities don’t strengthen our real communities, if our social media doesn’t increase our empathy, if our innovations don’t lead to social progress, then what good is our flashy technology?

You’re right: this technology is not going away.

So don’t bow down to it. Use it with intention and mindfulness. Harness what builds life, meaning, and community. Chuck the rest.

At least, this my mantra. Some days are better than others.

Five Takes from the Republican National Convention

gop-elephantObservations from the RNC:

1. The First Lady speech. Sure, it was uncouth to lift statements from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech. Especially when you are vilifying the Democrats. It probably says something about the Trump campaign that a speechwriter blatantly plagiarized in certain sections. But why should this dominate the news coverage for the first day of a convention? Largely overlooked in the microanalysis and mockery was the NeverTrump delegation protest, the super far right platform on social issues, and the actual content of the other speeches. Can’t wait for analysis of the First Man speech next week.

2. Vote your conscience! When Ted Cruz spoke this line instead of endorsing Trump, everyone booed. Many commentators remarked how the phrase shouldn’t have bothered Trump supporters, whose conscience (you would hope) already  leans Trump. But the phrase was a clear nod to the NeverTrump delegation’s protest Monday night, when they demanded an opportunity to nominate someone else. They asked for a “conscience clause” to vote against Trump. Either way, when Vote your Conscience! becomes a rallying cry against your candidate, it says something.

3. Speaking of conscience, it still irks me to no end that Republicans continue to placate the Trumpster. He does not represent your party’s goals. He has no loyalty. The whole “pledge to support the eventual nominee” thing started because they knew Trump wouldn’t, if he lost. Besides party loyalty, we’re dealing with a deranged individual. Wisconsin Governor and former presidential candidate Scott Walker, in his endorsement speech, said he wouldn’t trust Clinton with his cell phone password. He apparently has no problem with Trump’s finger on the nuclear trigger.

4. Ted Cruz don’t know hoops. During a campaign speech in Indiana, the birthplace of basketball, he stood in a gymnasium and referred to the “basketball ring” which anyone who has ever watched or played basketball knows is called a “hoop” or “rim” or the “bucket” or the “rack.” Trump had already clinched the basketball realm, anyways, with the endorsement of Indiana coaching legend and fellow hothead Bobby Knight. Unphased, Cruz decided to begin his speech, in Cleveland, with a LeBron James analogy. To me, this was more shameless than the primetime snub of the nominee.

5. Everyone saw Trump’s constrained speech. (Constrained as in “used a telepromter.” Not constrained as in “doesn’t scream about hell breaking lose for 70 minutes.”) Many people missed the press conference. Friday morning he unleashed, reviewing all the ugly details of his feud with Cruz. Petty to the max. Manipulative, as always. Incapable of forming a complete sentence. After the diatribe, he invited his social media guy to the podium, who bragged about their millions of Twitter followers. The whole thing would be downright hilarious if it wasn’t so truly frightening.

Reflecting on the Doomsday rhetoric, President Obama said Friday: “I think most people woke up and the birds were singing and the sun was out.”

Right now there are nine countries holding over 15,000 combined nuclear warheads. I hope that, waking up in 2020, we can be saying the same thing the current president did.

Moving Phoenix Forward

As rain started falling outside, the crowd started packing into the brick Methodist church just east of downtown Phoenix. The Rev. Reginald Walton stood at the pulpit to welcome this diverse congregation. As we know, he said, this is not about church but about community. At the front of the church sat a panel which included a civil rights attorney, a mother and educator, the mayor of Phoenix, the assistant police chief, and a few other community leaders.

Why are you here? Was the first question the reverend asked the panel. They were here to move the conversation forward, to move Phoenix forward in a time of discontent and division. Rev. Walton assured that tonight would be about solutions.

To keep the conversation constructive, the audience was asked to write questions on note-cards. The reverend would moderate the conversation with the topics raised on the cards.

The first part of the meeting was educational. For instance:

  • The Black Lives Matter group felt they were being portrayed as a dangerous “terrorist” group. The assistant police chief assured the group that, quite the opposite, they saw BLM as a partner. That’s why he showed up for this conversation. The police want to be held accountable and want to know when they do wrong, when they do right.
  • A question was raised about “for-profit” policing. Doesn’t the quota system for tickets and fines unfairly target certain communities? Answer: There is no quota system in Phoenix. A follow up question on private prisons was dodged.
  • Asked about strategies for de-escalation of conflict, the mayor touted the success of the Phoenix police in this area. In fact, the U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently visited Phoenix to praise their de-escalation training as a model for the nation.

A question was then raised about structural racism and implicit bias. Repeatedly, the mayor and police representatives admitted that there are “bad apples” who discriminate and harm the community. But what can be done systemically? How can we be sure that the bad apples are brought to justice? The need for transparency and oversight were discussed at length.

The civil rights lawyer made a good point here about the “criminalization of the poor,” where common fines can lead to more serious violations when individuals can’t pay. For instance, a traffic ticket, unpaid, will cause the suspension of a license. A poor person still needs to drive to work, but is now at risk of a more serious charge for driving on a suspended license. What is the purpose of these sorts of fines, after all? A proposed solution was scaling fines to income level, or forgiving fines due to hardship.

One answer to this question bothered me. A panelist described the problem with use of a second-hand anecdote. His example: One time a white girl from a small town in Iowa, after serving in the armed forces, joined the police academy in Phoenix. She was placed in the Maryvale district (a tough part of town) and immediately started judging the people there– the food they ate, their tattoos, their dress. This is the problem, the panelist said. Culturally insensitive white people are policing the inner-cities. The answer was met with applause.

Well, what was the rest of the story? Did the woman learn from this initial encounter and become an effective officer, or did she become abusive? We were left with this generalization based on the image of a redneck officer. Certainly abuse of power happens, and minorities are victimized by this abuse. Examples of this reality sparked the Black Lives Matter movement into existence. Several local examples were discussed during the meeting. The problem is serious and needs to be addressed. The problem of racial injustice is complicated and wedged into multiple facets of our justice system. Generalizations, in my opinion, won’t help move the conversation forward.

One follow-up response during this part of the conversation struck me differently. Someone wrote that they in the community feel discriminated against. There is a feeling and perception of bias by the criminal justice system. This is important and valid. How people feel is always valid. What can be done to promote healing and progress in this area? Someone suggested conducting sensitivity and de-escalation training within the community, to increase exposure and communication without the tension of a real world encounter.

The most emotionally powerful moment happened when Rev. Walton preached for a minute about the Code of Silence. Just like sometimes officers will stay silent, refuse to “rat out” another officer for abuse, people in the community will sometimes not turn to the police to respond to conflict or lawbreaking. He invited a woman to the podium to speak. Her son had been assaulted and killed by a group of people. No witnesses helped or called the police. One assailant was convicted, but she had been fighting in court, alone, trying to convince the police to investigate the others. Her plea to the audience was to work not just to change the system but to transform the community. The audience listened in rapt silence, nodding of heads.

Bottom-up. Top-down. Both approaches are needed. A city councilperson rose to encourage us to vote. Get to know your representatives. Learn the issues. Voting registration tables are set up in the back.

The townhall meeting concluded with an activity. A new presenter came up, asked us to envision three circles. One was a sphere of control: what can I do, in my present situation, as a parent or teacher or mayor or officer, to promote justice and equality? The second was a sphere of influence: who do I know and how can I affect others to participate in promoting justice and equality? The third was a sphere of concern: who do you care about that might not have a voice in society?

We were asked to shout out some obstacles to justice and equality. Fear. Pride. Laziness. Ignorance. Bias. Lack of resources.

Finally, we were asked to write down three concrete responses to three questions:

  • What are you going to do?
  • When are you going to start?
  • What is the first step?

A few people shared their responses to the group before we departed. For me, the first step is to prepare for classes next week. The more effective I am as a teacher, the more self-empowered my students become via their education.

My intention in attending this meeting was to simply listen and reflect. I left inspired by this group of citizens and leaders, proud of my city and motivated to work toward bettering my community.

Best of Enemies: Reflections from a Documentary

Browsing Netflix in the waning days of my summer vacation, I came across a fascinating documentary, Best of Enemies, about the rivalry between conservative intellectual William F. Buckley and his liberal nemesis Gore Vidal.

bestenemies1000x414v2

The film revolves around a series of nightly debates held by ABC, a station seeking a ratings boost, during the presidential nominating conventions in 1968. Instead of closely examining political differences, Best of Enemies focuses the story on a fledgling TV network that capitalized on the cultural clashes of the 60’s by pitting two titans against each other.

In the debates, Buckley and Vidal attacked each other relentlessly, unwilling to grant an ounce of legitimacy in the perspective of the other.  Each saw in the other the epitome of the wreckage of America.

As tensions heightened over the course of the debates, the pot finally boiled over. In the climax of the film, Vidal calls Buckley a “Nazi” and Buckley calls Vidal a “queer.” Their interchange sank to name calling as their emotions rose to the surface.

Watching this live, according to one commentator, ABC executives “nearly shat.” Of course the language wasn’t cool, by ethical standards, but it was a ratings bonanza. In the years following, banter/ partisan bickering became standard fare for televised political news. And the two intellectuals carried their mutual disdain to the grave.

A few reflections from the film:

***

Both had brilliant minds, but their worldviews were polar opposites.

So every piece of information, current event, or historical reference automatically filtered through this worldview, creating a sort of machine-like interpretative effect. Input a current event, quickly process from a liberal or conservative view, and output a sharp retort or keen observation.

Shortly before the name calling incident, they argued over Vietnam protests. They were literally arguing about seeing different things. In Chicago the night prior, Buckley had witnessed savage thugs cussing out police, who demonstrated Christ-like restraint. Vidal had witnessed meek folk-singing hippies, whom the police had battered with clubs.

Both made valid points about the efficacy and legality of protests, yet the tangible hatred for the other prevented any concessions.

How did these worldviews develop? You can almost imagine Buckley and Vidal, swapped at birth, vehemently and brilliantly defending opposite sides.  I wonder how much autonomy  or discovery went into developing these personas, and how much was a product of circumstance.

Makes you wonder about your own worldview.

***

The goal, for ABC, was ratings. 

They weren’t trying to find common ground or solution to the country’s problems. They sought to entertain with an epic sparring match.

How has the profit motive shaped public debate since the advent of TV? Now, in the era of glowing screens and instant access, how are the platforms for our conversations affecting the quality and content of those conversations?

We have presidential candidates tweeting insults at each other. The tweets become topics of televised banter. Short clips of this banter are captured and shared online. Counterpoints become memes become… arguments? We tightly filter our worldview generators in one breath, and mourn our polarization in the next. An unhinged reality TV show host with no experience in government is the nominee of a major political party.

Slow paced intellectual discourse used to entertain. For 30 years, Buckley hosted a show called Firing Line, where he invited guests for an hour long conversation. Nuance could be explored and differences of opinion could be hashed out at length.

In the entertainment marketplace today, we do have some options for depth. Podcasts like the Slate Political Gabfest dedicate an hour a week to a thoughtful panel discussion of a few pertinent topics. John Oliver in Last Week Tonight dedicates a half hour to one topic, mixing humor with critical analysis. Individuals like John Stossel publish long Youtube segments articulating their views.

Unfortunately, what wins most in our marketplace is not the Firing Line tradition but the ABC tradition. Rather than nuanced analysis or respectful, serious debate, we are more likely to encounter emotional outbursts, name calling, attacking cartoon versions of the other’s argument, and partisan cheer-leading.

***

One example stands out.

After browsing a few episodes of Firing Line, I stopped to watch Muhammad Ali  debate his objection to the Vietnam War and the racial divide in America. At the time, Ali’s boxing license was revoked and he was expecting jail time. Instead of being reduced to a tweet-sized burst: “The champ says white people are the devil!” the audience listened to Ali defend his objection to the war, his relationship with Islam, and the basis for his black nationalism. You wouldn’t have to agree with him, and Buckley didn’t. But he listened to Ali at length, invited him to extrapolate on his views by challenging the influence of his mentor Elijah Muhammad and his assumptions about white America. You wouldn’t have to agree with Buckley, either, but he forced you through rigorous considerations.

Carmelo Anthony recently posted a picture of Muhammad Ali on his Instagram account, encouraging athletes to use their influence to make a difference. At the opening of the ESPYs, he stood alongside fellow NBA players Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, and LeBron James to make a plea for change. Ali’s name was invoked repeatedly.

The modern media environment encourages expression. Constructive discourse or effective political action, not so much.

The arguments of Black Lives Matter deserve to be heard, but I fear that the message, which started as a hashtag, remains in the fragmented world of social media.

An important discussion needs to happen. My hope is that the BLM movement can initiate constructive debate and inspire people to heal fractured communities.

***

Human beings will always disagree with each other.

Disagreements happen within groups just as much as between groups. This is natural, this allows social evolution.

There was never a Golden-Age where people didn’t stereotype or insult each other. There never existed a world where everyone sat around reading and debating important matters.

But I think our entertainment age encourages strong opinions, with the emotional charge of Buckley vs. Vidal, without a humble thought or second thought behind them.

What was so powerful about the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King was not merely his eloquence but the depth of his thought. If you read his autobiographical writings you will find decades of searching for Truth. He started his public life with an intellectual conviction that non-violent resistance was the proper means to a reconciled end. He lived with a spiritual conviction that the love ethic would endure.

To love your neighbor, and to love even your enemy, for Dr. King meant Agape love– nothing sentimental, but “understanding good will.”

Agape love is a precondition to any constructive debates we will have about… anything, really.  Mutually seeking to understand each other, with benevolence and good will.

Sifting through the Madness

lbj jfk“Information is not insight, analysis is not awareness, knowledge is not awareness.”

Jesuit priest and psychologist Anthony deMello wrote about the problem with confusing these concepts. Information, analysis, knowledge– they can inform, but they cannot direct. They can diagnose, but absent insight or awareness, they cannot effectively treat.

Awareness, for deMello, is a process akin to observing yourself and the world from a perspective outside yourself. This is me, observing me, responding emotionally to my environment. This is me, aware of the cultural filters on my perception of reality. To be aware is to fearlessly confront your conditioning, your biases, your piety, and to approach truth without labels or prejudgments.

We can see that information and analysis can produce a variety of sentiments. We can read an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Heather MacDonald, rationalizing the deaths of black people by way of statistics: “…in 2015 officers killed 662 whites and Hispanics, and 258 blacks.” And to rationalize the disproportionate deaths of blacks, based on percentage of population, the author cites another statistic: “There were 6,095 black homicide deaths in 2014—the most recent year for which such data are available—compared with 5,397 homicide deaths for whites and Hispanics combined. Almost all of those black homicide victims had black killers.”

The argument of the piece was that black people die by the hands of police because they are statistically more dangerous to each other, more in need of police presence, and more likely to kill police officers. Cops, according to the author, should be applauded for protecting black communities, rather than condemned as racist killers.

We can see a different sentiment in the organized reaction by the Black Lives Matter protests across the nation. At a rally in Phoenix over the weekend– though not run by the official Arizona Black Lives Matter group– hundreds of protesters showed up, marching downtown, chanting and waving signs, demanding change, demanding justice.

The knowledge in the protesters’ minds is the knowledge of police killing black people. Killings seen, and felt emotionally, by graphic videos posted online. Knowledge also of the other killings– people who died running away from officers, people who died in police custody, people who died with their “hands up.” Maybe even personal knowledge, experience of discrimination.

Others try to unify these two sentiments, especially in the wake of the tragedy in Dallas. Black Lives Matter. Blue Lives Matter. How do we reconcile the two?

We even argue about hashtags. #BlackLivesMatter. #AllLivesMatter.

The best point I read on this distinction came from Sam Sawyer in the Jesuit Post: “#AllLivesMatter calls our attention to the principle, with which we already agree, rather than to the problem. But #BlackLivesMatter challenges us to conversion.”

Perhaps we are witnessing this conversion. Perhaps we are moving beyond hashtags toward community transformation.

Snoop Dogg, who in his prime rapped about killing other black people and killing cops, is now leading unity marches, meeting with LA police officers and preaching dialogue.

cant breatheNBA star Carmelo Anthony is encouraging his colleagues to move beyond wearing statements on their t-shirts and actually get involved in conversations with community leaders and politicians. He’s urging stars to use their influence to make a real difference.

In Phoenix, there are community meetings planned this week to dialogue about policing policies. Members of the Black Lives Matter group will be part of the discussions.

Heck, even Newt Gingrich, touted as a possible Trump Vice President, admitted recently that “if you are a normal white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America, and you instinctively under-estimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk.”

Personally, I agree with President Obama when he said that we aren’t as divided as it seems. We aren’t seeing the polarization that tore society apart in the 60’s.

But we do need to confront the problems. It’s disheartening that, in 2016, rather than judging not by the color of our skin but the content of our character, we are still hyper-focused on skin color.

To that end, information and analysis can be important. Does it matter that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, black people make up 13% of the population but 40% of our prison population? Does it matter that, according to the U.S. Department of Justice investigation, Michael Brown didn’t have his “hands up” when shot, but was charging the officer?

Sure. While we’re at it we could throw up stats on disparities in education, poverty rate, biases in employment, fatherless homes. Why are the inner-cities different than the suburbs? We could analyze the crap out of these dynamics. And we do.

But our division is psychological. The wounds are not just physical or structural but emotional. The police killings are symbolic of deeper wounds that span centuries. Still not healed.

Analysis alone cannot heal our division. It cannot direct authentic action toward social change.

Awareness and conversion can inspire both.

***

Links to other writings on structural racism and the Black Lives Matter movement:

Article Review: The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration

Listen to their Voices

 

 

 

Dichotomy of a Decision

curry durant“I think the major factor and the major reason in my decision was the best opportunity for me to win and to win now and to win into the future also.”

The above quote is from LeBron James’s interview with ESPN in 2010. The Decision was hyped for weeks, the interview aired on primetime after a 30 minute tribute to King James.

After some awkward chit-chat with Jim Gray, James uttered the infamous declaration: “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.”

Garish enough already, a few days later he proceeded to dance on stage in Miami with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh– all in uniform, all bragging about how many championships they were about to win together.

Contrast that with Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Golden State Warriors this week. Durant posted his thoughts on The Player’s Tribune. His first paragraph reveals the reflective nature of this process, saying that he “understood cognitively that I was facing a crossroads in my evolution as a player and as a man.”

Then he makes his decision:

The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction. But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.

Durant proceeded to thank Oklahoma City for contributing to his growth so far as a person. He expressed appreciation for all the important relationships in the community and within the Thunder organization.

Both players faced frustrating situations with their first and only franchises. Neither player could quite get over the hump of a championship.

Criticism comes easily with these sorts of decisions, especially in sports. Loyalty is a virtue. Competitive integrity is a virtue. It’s hard to imagine, say, Michael Jordan joining the Bad Boy Pistons in 1989.

I see some key differences, though, both generationally and between Durant and James.

This is not the 80’s. Though trades have always shaped the league, player autonomy and team fluidity have increased, changing the culture of the NBA. The only franchise that truly has an identity right now is the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State is developing one.

Loyalty in the old sense is non-existent. Teams scapegoat fire a coach, who gets hired the next year by the next team. Players easily jump to the next contract, the next team.

Because of this, I applaud Durant’s move to a first-class organization with a philosophy of ball movement and unselfishness. For him, an opportunity to “contribute” and “grow.”

LeBron’s 2010 decision, on the other hand, was for “me to win,” to take “my talents” and combine them with other basketball mercenaries to build a super-team in Miami.

Additionally, his situation in Cleveland was unique– his loyalties were to a people; he was a hometown prodigy drafted to a historically tortured sports town. Not that he, as an individual, was bound to that situation forever. My criticism of LeBron has always been that his ego somehow manages to outshine his talents.

Even his heroic return rang hollow. Rather than express gratitude to Cleveland for welcoming him back, for forgiving and forgetting, for giving him the keys of the Cavalier organization, for building a contender, his response was a smug: I’m the best player in the world and I delivered on my promise bring you a championship. You’re welcome. Where’s my statue?

The Warriors with Kevin Durant might win a championship or two. But nothing about this decision hinges on that. It doesn’t feel like ring-chasing, and you can sense a deeper purpose in the craft of basketball within the Warrior organization.

I respect that.