For the longest time, it seemed as if you could bet your house on the fact that Kevin Durant would be leaving the dynastic Golden State Warriors for the lowly New York Knicks. Initially, many questioned Durant’s motivations, as the idea of leaving the Bay Area for New York seemed foolish on paper.
Since joining the Warriors, Durant had shed his reputation as a playoff “choker” by winning two consecutive titles, with two Finals MVP awards as well. If it was indeed success that Durant was chasing, then he would not have needed to look any further than the situation which he presently found himself in. By resigning with the Warriors, KD could virtually guarantee himself several more titles and playoff accolades. So just why would the best player in the league leave this situation for a team like the Knicks?
Within a few weeks of the Durant-to-New York rumors becoming a heavily circulated media topic, a new layer of intrigue was added to the story. Kyrie Irving, a recovering Flat Earth theorist, had become something of a cancer in the locker room of the once dominant Boston Celtics. With a trio of all star talents in Irving, Al Horford, and Gordon Hayward as well as an even more exhilarating group of young players in Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Smart, the Celtics seemed to have the makings of a dynasty themselves. That was until Irving became the center of a locker room fragmentation, with murky origins to this day. Not long after these chemistry issues went public, rumblings of a plan consisting of a KD/Kyrie “superteam” ran rampant throughout the basketball world.
While the Knicks somehow bungled the acquisition of the two mercurial superstars, the Brooklyn Nets, long considered to be the “little brother” franchise to the Knickerbockers, pounced upon the duo in the weeks leading up to free agency. We now know that all along, the plan was for KD and Kyrie to play together in New York, as neither had any interest in returning to their original teams, nor teaming up with a seperate superstar in another city. But why New York? Why together? And most importantly, why leave such favorable title contenders for a team like the Nets (or the Knicks, who were the original choice for the duo), for less money?
Recently, I have come to the realization that the reason why Irving and Durant were so focused on landing together in New York had nothing to do with money, rings, personal success, or geography. It was in fact, the allure of spirituality promised by Carl Lentz, a millennial pastor known for wearing designer clothing.
Lentz is the senior pastor of the Hillsong Church in New York, an evangelical denomination with members that include both Irving and Durant as well as other celebrities like Justin Bieber (who has allegedly had a falling out with Lentz), Kendall and Kylie Jenner, and Jay-Z (his agency Roc Nation represents Irving). Lentz’s church combines the trendy, aesthetic nature of social media culture with the traditional teachings of christianity, effectively enfusing social capital and status into a religious group. While this article is a speculative, opinionist piece (I have no inside sources telling me that Lentz is the sole reason why KD/Kyrie are in Brooklyn) there exists a large collection of evidence suggesting that he (Lentz) had a hand in this union.
This actually is not the first time that Carl Lentz has impacted Irving’s career. It was widely reported during the offseason of 2017, that Lentz had “advised” Irving during his negotiations with the Cavaliers front office as he attempted to force a trade. While it’s unfair to speculate that Lentz was attempting to meddle in the affairs of the Cavs, his involvement is still notable. With a link to both of Irving’s ugly breakups with Boston and Cleveland respectively, it is fair to assume that Lentz has had an agenda for a while now.
While Irving and Durant are just the latest NBA players to land in New York, there is a history of other players associated with Lentz who have notably ended up playing in New York. Carmelo Anthony, a member of the Hillsong Church himself, effectively forced a trade from Denver to New York shortly before the trade deadline of 2011. Tyson Chandler, who reportedly hosted a baptism for Justin Bieber in his Dallas home, signed a large contract with the Knicks mere weeks after winning an NBA title with the Mavericks in 2011. Iman Shumpert, a former guard for the Knicks who also spent time with Irving in Cleveland, is yet another member of Lentz’s church.
While it is unclear whether Lentz’s involvement with NBA players coming to play in New York is direct correlation or causation, Nets fans should be thankful for his involvement in forging the relationship between Durant and Irving. For NBA fans, keep an eye on who your team’s players are associated with, for if the name Carl Lentz comes up, you can almost certainly bet on the player ending up on a New York team.