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June 18, 2024

Bones Hyland and Kevin Durant represent the duality of player empowerment

By JONATHAN MISDARY | February 19, 2023



Los Angeles Clippers guard Bones Hyland represents one side of the player-empowerment era of the NBA.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is just a business.

Nah'Shon “Bones” Hyland is electric, but it’s not just his sweet one-handed dimes and parking lot range. It’s his aura. Bones plays with unbridled and unparalleled joy, and it speaks to all he’s overcome to get to the league. 

March 25, 2018 was supposed to be a normal day for Hyland. He had just returned from an Amateur Athletic Union game and was watching Duke versus Kansas in the Elite Eight. On the phone with a friend, it was no different than any other night, except for the growing black smoke slowly filling his house. By the time Bones realized that his house was on fire, his only option was to jump out of his second-floor bedroom, hoping his neighbors could brace his fall. Bones jumped, and although his neighbors caught his upper body, his right knee endured much of the impact inflicted by the brick stairs below. Inside, his grandmother and cousins remained, trapped. 

Bones and one of his cousins escaped, thanks to the quick response of the Wilmington Fire Department. His grandmother and another one of his cousins, however, were rushed to the hospital, but it was too late. Compounded with a torn patellar tendon that he suffered from jumping out of the window and the loss of his childhood home, Hyland was set on a course of recovery and healing that would test his resolve in more ways than one.

In his first game back, Bones responded in a manner only he could, dropping 40 points in a nine-point victory. His coach noticed a renewed sense of fierce intensity, which Bones accredited to a newfound perspective after recovering from the fire. 

It is this mindset that had propelled Bones to become a fan favorite with the Denver Nuggets and made it all the more gut-wrenching when he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers last week.

Although the Nuggets have not missed a beat on the court with Bones, he is dearly missed off the court. Obviously, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are still loved in Denver due to their basketball acumen and endearing personalities. For Jokic, his selfless, nonchalant attitude separates him from other NBA stars. Murray’s supreme confidence is undeniable, and his legendary run in the bubble is branded in the minds of many Nuggets fans. 

But beyond that, it was Bones who resonated most with the Denver faithful. He made an effort to rally the crowd and would regularly go for the highlight reel play over the simple one. Unfortunately, this also resulted in him landing outside of Nuggets head coach Michael Malone’s rotation. 

In today’s NBA, it’s increasingly difficult for fanbases to develop close, personal relationships with players. In the era of athlete empowerment, player movement is at an all-time high, and it’s extremely rare for someone to play their entire career with a single franchise. 

As a result, players are more focused on developing their personal brand, rather than connecting with the team’s loyal fanbase. It’s all about the name on the back of the jersey, not the logo on the front.

On the other end of the spectrum is Kevin Durant. While Bones wanted to stay in Denver and developed a genuine relationship predicated on his unassailable joy with Denver fans, Durant made no such attempt. As soon as Kyrie Irving wanted out, Durant followed suit. 

It’s ironically these decisions that restore balance to the NBA. While Bones is a pawn in the chess match that is the NBA, Durant is a queen. He moves on his terms, able to orchestrate player signings and trades effortlessly. 

Frankly, the duality of these moves perfectly represents the era the NBA is slowly shifting into. Bones’ situation shows how fan-player relations are strained by the looming possibility of a trade. Players won’t take the time to invest in their communities when they can be flipped so thoughtlessly. In Durant’s case, teams are at the mercy of their stars. No move can happen without their approval, and their dissatisfaction is a death sentence. In the devaluation of the team, the player has been exalted. That is, the player who is of Durant’s caliber. 

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