Let's just get this out of the way now.
I am not a LeBron James "hater."
I like LeBron just as much as, if not more than, Kevin Durant.
I don't call him "Prince James," make fun of his hairline, label him a sidekick or say that he would excel at hockey because there is no 4th quarter; and only one of those is a lie.
Rough times with the hairline, LeBron.
More importantly, LeBron James has led me to a championship in fantasy basketball. Any armchair fantasy guru can tell you how easily even the strongest of opinions towards players can be swayed when they bring you success in fantasy sports.
In fact, my friends could tell you that Dwyane Wade is my Heat villain of choice to despise.
Now, with all of that on the table, I will still say that the NBA is better off with Kevin Durant as its premier superstar.
Let me explain myself. As an unbiased, die-hard fan of the NBA (I don't even have a favorite team), I want the league to be as compelling and interesting as possible.
The NBA (in my opinion) is at its peak popularity when as many of the following dynamics are in play:
1. Transcendent Superstar - A clear best player in the league who refuses to be denied in the playoffs. Obvious past example: Michael Jordan.
2. Elite Players/Teams Without Championships - There might not be anything more compelling in sports than watching consistently great players search for their first title. Obvious past examples: Malone, Stockton, Barkley, etc.
3. Villains - When casual fans who wouldn't normally care about the NBA tune in because they hate a player or team that badly, you have yourself a villain. Obvious examples: Kris Humphries, Jimmer Fredette.
4. Rivalries - Magic vs. Bird is the definition and example.
As should be patently obvious by now, when David Stern tells his referees that he has anointed LeBron James "The Transcendent One," and to act accordingly, he will be creating a conflict of interest for the NBA.
Lately, I've been wondering whether I'd rather watch LeBron turn into the next Jordan or continue to watch the Heat lose. As a fan, I'm honestly not sure which turnout I would be more interested in.
As long as LeBron is the undisputed best player in the league, there is no cut-and-dry answer.
Good thing he's not anymore.
I was once the staunchest supporter of the "LeBron is the best player in the NBA, period" argument. Today, I just can't ignore what Kevin Durant has done in fourth quarters.
Don't get me wrong, I still think that LeBron is the best player in the league. Unlike before, I can now see how Durant could potentially surpass him.
LeBron James fills up the stat sheet and can get to the rim at will, but Kevin Durant looks more like the player who refuses to be denied. I can't imagine the scoring averages he would put up if he played with a pass-first PG during his prime.
If Kevin Durant starts winning titles, we will have a new face of the NBA, one of the game's best players ever without a championship, villains that people might actually start sympathizing with (aren't those the best kind?), and a new rivalry between two of the greatest players and scorers ever, who play the same position in different conferences.
Check, check, check, and check.
If LeBron starts winning titles, one of the major (and perhaps the most compelling) story lines disappear. Also, we could even lose the Heat as villains if America starts rooting for a powerhouse team that resembles the Bulls.
Sure, the same championship expectations are in Kevin Durant's near future whether or not he wins it this season, but can you imagine the chaos if LeBron still doesn't have his first title in the next two or three years? Wouldn't you love to see LeBron James finally figure it all out down the road and enter desperation mode in the playoffs?
Let's be clear: I am not predicting/suggesting/implying that Kevin Durant will surpass LeBron James as the best player in the NBA.
What I am saying is that, as long as you aren't rooting for the Miami Heat or the Seattle SuperSonics (otherwise known as 95 percent of NBA fans), you should hope that KD takes over, or at least reconsider your player allegiances.
The crazy thing about sports is, even after everything I just said, I still couldn't help but feel a little happy for The King if he finally gets his ring this year, and wouldn't blame anyone who did.
Maybe LeBron is just the Jordan successor fans deserve, but not the one they need right now.