Kevin Durant realized and executed Monday the most important mantra in navigating his NBA free agency by ultimately choosing to sign with the Golden State Warriors: There is no loyalty.


Not an ounce of it.

And in executing a selfish (and to many stunning) move to leave Oklahoma City for the team that ousted them in this year's Western Conference finals, Durant followed the only model that matters if the real goal is greatness. He looked out for himself. It was absolutely the right call.

The league is littered with proof that looking out for old No. 1 is the only way to act. Start with his own team. In trading Serge Ibaka to the Orlando on draft night, Thunder General Manager Sam Presti sent Durant a clear reminder this is a business. It's not about feelings. It's not about time served. It's not about friendship.

It's about winning.

Want to counter with the idea it was Ibaka who wanted out -- who needed to be the guy somewhere, to put up numbers in anticipation of his own free agency next summer, and so Presti merely accommodated him? Fine. That just makes the point in even starker terms.

Either way, in the NBA as in all big businesses, you have to follow your own self-interest. The Thunder wouldn't be in Oklahoma City in the first place -- and Durant wouldn't have just broken the hearts of the people in that state -- if its ownership group hadn't gone to Seattle and taken its team in the first place.

Look at LeBron James. There's no better person to emulate in the NBA, in terms of greatness or growth or off-court strategy or legacy building, than LeBron. He's the titular leader in the games of power and status-building in the league, if not all of sports.

And LeBron James -- and I mean this as a compliment -- has taken a lack of loyalty and turned it into a chance to someday pass Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all time. He understood early that owners and teams have always talked love and acted with ruthless and appropriate action based on their own interests. He followed suit.

First, LeBron left Cleveland, breaking those hearts and heavily damaging his own brand. Good call. Because in Miami, under Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade and that organization and its culture, he learned about winning and how to win championships. The Heat got two more banners; LeBron got a PhD in culture building and ring acquisitions.

LeBron and the Heat, however, weren't family. They were business partners, executing a mutually successful four-year transaction.

How did he repay Miami for the lessons it helped LeBron learn? By watching him go back home -- out of love for Ohio sure -- but also because bringing Cleveland a championship would have been an all-time great move, and his control over that organization would have been nearly total.

LeBron decided to do what was best for LeBron.

James says he watched The Godfather during the Finals. Maybe. Maybe not. But here's a line from it -- the line -- that he utterly understands: It's not personal. It's strictly business.

Durant understood that and, acted accordingly. The only real measurement for greatness in this game is done in rings, not in hugs and thank yous. Rings, not gratitude, is the path to all-time status.

Ask Karl Malone. He would certainly trade all the love, free drinks and good will in Utah for a single piece of hardware. Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson -- it is a long list you need to avoid if you are at Durant's rare level of greatness.

We've seen this movie before, and it ends this way: The Thunder simply aren't good enough to win an NBA championship. Not in that conference. They haven't reached the Finals since 2012. The 3-1 collapse against the Warriors in the conference finals wasn't proof they could get there. No, it was proof OKC just didn't have the mettle and those other intangibles to hoist that trophy.

Durant surely knows that this idea of looking out for yourself -- that killer instinct that defines business -- usually defines its best players, too. They have to stuff down their real love and true affection for people and places like LeBron did and make the right basketball decision. Which means, even if he'd stayed, teammate Russell Westbrook was surely leaving next year when he's a free agent.

So why give up another year of your career to a Thunder team that is not good enough? Why let loyalty get in the way of greatness? Why not, if you're going to stay in the Western Conference, play for the one team that makes sense: The Golden State Warriors.

In his essay at the Player's Tribune, Durant wrote of the pain he'd feel in disappointing so many people in his adopted city and state. I don't doubt it. Doing the right thing, as they say, is usually really hard. Double that for the good people who have to do the right thing when what's right for them isn't for those they love.

So don't deride Durant. Praise him. He made an emotionally difficult decision, and he got it right.

It wasn't supposed to be personal, it was supposed to be business. And for him, and the business of trying to win an NBA Championship, the best decision was the one he just made.

Kevin Durant made a decision that will benefit him, and unfortunately for the Thunder, not them. USATSI