Ladies and gentlemen, we have a rivalry.
Bill Russell had Wilt Chamberlain. Larry Bird had Magic Johnson. Michael Jordan had... well, nobody really, and now, LeBron James has Kevin Durant.
Make no mistake, there is no bad blood between these two NBA superstars. In fact, James and Durant are good friends and even summer workout partners.
This friendly rivalry is set to shape the future of the NBA. King James and the Durantula, one humbled by poor “The Decision”s, another who has been unassuming and respectful from the moment he was drafted second overall.
So how did the 2012 NBA Finals change the debate between the two? Well, it quieted vehement Durant supporters for now, but they’ll be back—and so will Durant.
There’s no debate that James is the best player in the NBA, right now.
He made sure of that after his masterful playoff performance this year, which took off when he averaged 33.6 points, 11 rebounds and 3.9 assists in the Eastern Conference finals against James’ arch nemesis Boston Celtics and culminated when James’ averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game in the NBA Finals, winning his first NBA championship and simultaneously destroying the monkey on his back.
When you compare the all-around game of James to the all-around game of Durant, the debate isn’t even close. James is far and away the more complete player at this juncture, but keep in mind that LBJ is a savvy veteran now.
At 27 years old, James is four years Durant’s senior. Durant has played five NBA seasons compared to LBJ’s nine seasons. They’re almost like two brothers squaring off, with the older, more experienced sibling coming out on top.
James took his game to a transcendent level this year. It appears as if he “gets it” and finally understands what it takes to win on the biggest stage.
Durant just isn’t quite there yet, and you know what? That’s absolutely fine.
James spent seven years in Cleveland and one in Miami before winning his first title. Oklahoma City Thunder fans are hopeful that Durant won’t take that same career path, but winning a title at just 23 years old would have been an amazing feat.
James, a three-time NBA MVP, and Durant, a three-time NBA scoring champ, are similar in a lot of ways.
In fact, I think that after the regular season, it could have been argued that Durant was a better player than James strictly on the offensive end of the court. However, the NBA Finals stifled that outlook.
While Durant got absolutely hounded by Shane Battier 25-28 feet away from the basket, frustrating Durant into having the quietest 28-point night and 32-point night we may ever see, James was thoroughly dominant.
Durant is without question the more consistent outside shooter, but James knocked down jump shots, attacked the basket, put on a passing clinic, included a deadly post game and even knocked down some threes of his own.
For now, there shouldn’t be an argument. LeBron James is the best player in the game.
Does that mean KD can’t compete with LeBron? Of course not, Durant is probably better suited than most to go toe-to-toe with James moving forward.
As Durant matures and gains more valuable postseason experience, he’ll be a bigger threat to James.
At this point, he just needs to keep working his butt off, add some muscle mass to prevent players like Battier from bullying him and let LeBron have his moment.
A memorable rivalry is unfolding in today’s NBA right before our eyes, and true basketball fans need to appreciate it.
You can follow me on Twitter @benlebo