It probably would not be an exaggeration to say that SB Nation NBA's own Whitney Medworth, known as @its_whitney on Twitter, is one of the most popular social media voices among fans of the Indiana Pacers. She has nearly 5,000 followers and over 70 million loops on Vine, in part, because her accounts communicate, via creative memes or NBA-informed quips, exactly what fans exultantly or despondently feel in the moment. Whether routinely using the popular image of a praying cat when the Pacers are in need of a little luck, or commiserating with fans for the days and weeks following Paul George's gruesome injury, Medworth is undeniably entertaining and relatable.
If you can't handle me at my Paul George broken leg, you don't deserve me at Paul George best in the East.— whitney (@its_whitney) December 3, 2015
For instance, after the Golden State Warriors agreed to pose for a series of fashion shots for the San Francisco Chronicle, Medworth was quick to remind fans of the peril that befell the 2013-14 Indiana Pacers after Paul George, George Hill, Lance Stephenson, David West, and Roy Hibbert graced the pages of GQ. The latter photo has long since been compared by fans to the closing scene of America's Next Top Model wherein an image of the most recently eliminated contestant vanishes from a group portrait. As of now, Paul George and George Hill are the only two players featured still in the running to become Indiana's Next Top Pacer (Spoiler Alert: Paul George probably wins).
If anything happens to the Warriors........ pic.twitter.com/Y85rfVfkW3— whitney (@its_whitney) April 21, 2016
But she also writes the stories fans of the league more broadly don't know they need until they read them. Such as during the Western Conference Finals when she published an in-depth guide detailing how much it costs to dress like Oklahoma City's resident fashionista Russell Westbrook.
Now, she is using her Twitter fame to bolster her followers to show their support for enticing Kevin Durant to join Paul George and the Indiana Pacers next season.
Medworth agreed to do a Q&A with Indy Cornrows on the birth, rise, and plausibility of her latest internet endeavor, #KevINDYrant.
Given that the Thunder pushed the reigning champion Golden State Warriors to the brink of elimination in the WCF, most league insiders now seem fairly confident that Kevin Durant will sign a one-plus-one contract with OKC this offseason. Due to the financial incentives to stay put, at least until the salary cap skyrockets in the summer of 2017, along with the lure of OKC's young, immensely talented core, Durant changing addresses (let alone relocating to Indiana) does not seem particularly likely. So, why start this movement at all?
WM: The movement started in pure fun. I was actually working on something for SBNation regarding Durant's free agency and looking up how many teams had photoshopped Durant with their team's jersey. I couldn't find a single KD photoshop with a Pacers jersey on, so Hector Diaz also of SBNation, created one within minutes. From there, Hector also came up with #KevINDYrant tag which I thought was extremely clever. I sent out one tweet with the photoshop and the hashtag and it spread from there. It got such a good response, I just kept rolling with it. My favorite addition to the movement so far was a fan telling KD about Kilroy's breadsticks. Now that is genius.
Since your initial tweet on Wednesday, in which you seemingly tongue-and-check called for your followers to come aboard the "grassroots movement" to get Kevin Durant to come to Indy with the hashtag #KevINDYrant, which was devised by SB Nation's Hector Diaz, the pair of you have gained quite a bit of traction and notoriety. The Indy Star's Phil Friend and Aaron Torres of Fox Sports both covered it, and Claire McNear from The Ringer mentioned you when ranking Indiana as the third-best effort to lure Kevin Durant. Plus, if you search the #KevINDYrant tag, both Paul George and Durant's Twitter profiles show up. Are you surprised by how fast this has caught on both regionally and nationally?
WM: First things first, Claire let me know we're No. 1 in her heart. So I'm taking that. But yeah, it's been really surprising. Indiana is not a destination for many top free agents and it's definitely not a team that is being shopped around as a possible suitor for KD. So it could have easily died quickly. But I think Pacers fans are extremely proud of Paul George and Myles Turner and have no shame in asking Durant to look over Indy's way. It's all in fun ... I mean, what team doesn't want Kevin Durant? Literally every single team in the NBA would take him on their team. He's a free agent. And we're having fun on Twitter with it.
Last November, when Derrick Rose wore a shirt with the meme you created of his son PJ's face from a press conference during the 2015 Eastern Conference semi-finals series between the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers, you tweeted that that was your "proudest internet moment." Does the fast-growing popularity of #KevINDYrant top that for you?
This is my proudest internet moment, my heart is full. pic.twitter.com/SNz15aia4d— whitney (@its_whitney) November 6, 2015
WM: Oh, man. Seeing that PJ meme on a t-shirt was still pretty amazing. Derrick Rose wearing that just showed the power of Twitter and how much fun we have with the NBA and social media. I think NBA Twitter is the best version of Twitter you will ever find. That meme being sold on a t-shirt will remain my top moment unless we see Paul George tweet out a #KevIDNYrant hashtag. If we get something crazy like that, then it may become #1.
What do you think about some of your detractors who have scoffed at the notion that the Pacers would even get a sit down with Durant, let alone sign him? Teams can't even start negotiating with free agents until July 1; why not give fans of the Blue & Gold some entertainment in the meantime? Where's the harm in wishful thinking, right?
WM: Definitely. I've seen a few people disregard it. I've even heard someone say we were "bullying" Pacers fans. Anyone that follows me knows I'm just a huge fan of the game and love to have fun with my Twitter account. I don't think we're leading any Pacers fans on to think that the Pacers will have failed if they don't land KD. I don't think any of us expect that to happen or think it's a necessary move. But you gotta shoot your shot, right?
On a more serious note, ESPN's Marc Stein specifically mentioned the Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and Golden State Warriors as teams "actively seeking the chance to court KD face-to-face." Though it seems like this list should include all 30 teams, the Indiana Pacers aren't on it. Does this surprise you?
WM: I think agents do a lot of the bidding and talking. So my assumption is that these are teams that know they have a window to get KD. Although at this point, I think the Wizards only remaining chance is a twitter hashtag just like ours. And really ... the Pacers should have as good of a shot as any of the East teams mentioned when you break it down. I do wish the Pacers got mentioned more often in these talks, especially with Paul George, who has really turned into a star in the league. But whether it's a money thing or a perception thing, it just doesn't happen.
Is market size really a reason to discount the Pacers? Paul George just nabbed the cover of NBA 2K17 and has a high-profile endorsement deal with Gatorade, clearly the ability to earn supplemental income exists in Indiana, right?
WM: I'm not sure market size really matters that much to Kevin Durant. And I'm not (sure) that more than 2-3 of the teams mentioned have any better of a chance than the Pacers do. I think KD wants to be in a solid organization that has a chance to win. You could argue that KD + PG in the East are going to win a lot of basketball games. But at the end of the day, I do think he signs a one year deal in OKC and hey, then we can keep the movement going another year.
Ian Begley of ESPN New York recently wrote that league sources say Durant's "opinion on Porzingis and his friendship with Carmelo are two factors that will play a role in how Durant views the Knicks." Given that he's referred to fellow Texas Longhorn Myles Turner as "family" and has said that Paul George is someone he really "respects" and "admires," is there reason to believe that those two could change how Durant views the Pacers?
WM: Yeah, I mean, that's the only real reason to push this hashtag, right? The Pacers have the exact same "reasons" for KD that the Knicks do. We've recently heard KD praise Paul and Myles. He's literally on record (saying) he likes Paul George better than Kawhi Leonard. If he was on record saying that about any of these top teams mentioned, it would be a media frenzy. You can even do the math and actually get the salary numbers to work for Kevin to come to Indiana. I'm just not sure a conversation will even happen.
Last November, Durant mentioned that he thought it was "disrespectful" of Washington Wizards fans to be fawning over him rather than their own team. He also doesn't seem too keen on going on a recruitment tour this summer. Given his seemingly low-key personality, what are the chances that #KevINDYrant actually backfires?
WM: For it to backfire would mean for Kevin Durant to actually see this. And while we're catching a little fire, I don't think this will have any impact. I think if anything, this shows how much Pacers fans like Paul George and the team to be able to say, "hey come join us and lets win a lot of basketball games." No one wants trade for Kevin Durant, we just want to add Kevin Durant. And if this hashtag actually backfires, you can all kick me out of Pacers Twitter. Or at least put me on probation.
Alright, last question. Now that this thing has gone national, how do you keep it from fizzling out? What should the movement's next...ahem...move be? Paul George did mention following the season that he hoped he, Monta Ellis, and maybe George Hill could do a "great job" recruiting and get a "big name" to come here, do you try to draw the attention of those three?
WM: I want to make sure we keep it light and fun. I don't want us to look like irrational, crazy Pacers fans. And hey, maybe we already do look like that! But yeah, if Paul George wants to throw a #KevINDYrant tweet out there, I won't stop him. I hope Paul George's offseason workouts are full of pitches to bring some top guys to Indy.