LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant: Expectations Mean LeBron Never Had a Chance
In case anyone hasn't noticed, LeBron James' 2011-2012 season has been a dream for stat nerds—27.7 points per game, 8.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists. Pair those averages with a 54.9 field-goal percentage and you have a historically great season. He has a jaw-dropping 33.01 PER. Yet his defining moment of the season appears to be passing up a shot in the All-Star Game.
The truth is that this is just the next step in the logical progression of LeBron's career commentary. No matter how remarkable his talents or how great his numbers, he cannot surpass the expectations of fans and media members. As long as there are holes in his game, they will be nitpicked and focused on.
This has always been an attribute of sports. Those of us who don't get paid to play love to put ourselves in the shoes of the greats. We tell ourselves that if we possessed their talent, we would dedicate every waking hour to becoming the best. We would grant every autograph request and never argue over a contract.
All of that is part of professional sports. Society demands high standards from phenomenal athletes.
However, with James, it has gone too far. Don't believe me? Look at this piece ESPN ran for their "5-on-5" series comparing James to five of the greatest basketball players of all time. How can anyone reasonably compare a player in his ninth NBA season with the legends? The concept is ridiculous but unfortunately common when it comes to James.
To see how unachievable the expectations are for LeBron, one only needs to look at the career of the second-best small forward in the NBA: Kevin Durant.
Durant has been cast as the anti-LeBron. He is content to play in a small market (by the way, James signed a contract extension before the expiration of his rookie contract too). He doesn't appear to be preoccupied with building his brand. He refrains from referring to himself in third person.
There are many differences between Durant and James, some real and some perceived, but the greatest difference is that Durant's career has been allowed to develop organically.
Durant followed up being NCAA player of the year with the Rookie of the Year trophy in the NBA. In his third season, he became the youngest scoring champion ever. He repeated as top scorer last year and led the Thunder to the Western Conference finals.
Despite his stellar start to his career, there have been few Kevin Durant vs. Michael Jordan arguments. Actually, there have been few debates pitting Durant against the legends. When he is compared to past players, it is usually to George Gervin or Tracy McGrady. Both were outstanding players, but hardly Jordan, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird.
There is no ring count for Durant. No caveats to his brilliance. The media seems content to allow his career to unfold naturally.
Contrast that with LeBron, who was heralded as the next MJ before he could legally buy a pack of smokes, let alone drink. James was being viewed in a historical context before he played an NBA game. His potential seemed limitless and he was judged by those standards. Of course he would fail.
Imagine if LeBron's career was analyzed by the same standards as Durant's. The NBA world would be celebrating his phenomenal season as the cherry on top of an already incredible career. Instead, he is forced to compete against myth.
Unlike Kevin Durant, LeBron James never had a chance.
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