Every NBA Superstar's Worst Enemy
As Sun Tzu taught in "The Art of War", knowledge of one's enemy is vital to one's success. But while many of the Association's superstars are intimately familiar with their respective rivals, defeating said opponents is something of an arduous task.
It's clear that the NBA's aristocracy faces a greater set of challenges than the typical NBA player. Somehow, that seems fitting since they've all proven themselves to be head-and-shoulders above their peers.
Those on the precipice of greatness (Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love, among others) can learn a thing or two about adversity from the league's ruling class. At the very least, it will make them more aware of what to watch for as they continue their maturation process.
Of course, there is the standard set of obstacles that one must overcome. Every player in the NBA—elite or otherwise—has to deal with 29 other teams on the path to winning a championship. The journey is exceedingly more difficult for the league's best talents, all of whom endure an enormous amount of scrutiny every time that they step onto the court.
That white-hot spotlight isn't always their primary concern, however. And while opposing players and external forces are typically their chief rivals, for many stars, Lit's late-'90s song "My Own Worst Enemy" would serve as the perfect anthem.
8) Kobe Bryant: Jim Buss
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It was widely assumed that Phil Jackson was going to get the Lakers' head coaching job after the firing of Mike Brown earlier this year. But thanks to "a midnight coup", LA hired Mike D'Antoni for the position, spurning Jackson because of a reported rift with team executive vice president Jim Buss.
While D'Antoni should do well in Hollywood, Jackson would have given Kobe Bryant an excellent chance at winning his sixth title. The two have a stellar track record together, and Jackson would have instantly commanded the respect of everyone in the Lakers' locker room.
Bryant doesn't have many more years left at an elite level, and Buss may have sabotaged the last, best hope at a championship for his franchise player.
7) Dwight Howard: Himself
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Dwight Howard's indecision last season made him an enemy of the state, but his own worst foe in recent years has been himself. If he had played his cards right, he could have been patrolling the middle in Brooklyn, which happened to be his preferred destination according to Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel.
Howard's petulant behavior ultimately had its intended consequence: He was sent to a team that has legitimate title aspirations. But while his championship odds have increased significantly, Howard might be the most disliked player in the Association.
For a man who admitted that he wanted everyone to love him, Howard's actions made it so that many will despise him for the rest of his career.
6) Chris Paul: Kobe Bryant
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Paul is the primary reason behind the resurgence of the Los Angeles Clippers, and his mere presence will make the team a perennial contender if he signs an extension this offseason.
But standing directly in the way of a title (and Paul's ascension into NBA royalty) is Bryant and the Lakers. Without at least one championship, Paul and his teammates will forever be relegated to "little brother" status in Hollywood.
If the Clippers do manage to win one, however, Paul just might inherit the mantle of "King of LA" from the aging "Black Mamba."
5) Tim Duncan: David Stern
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The mild-mannered Tim Duncan has few enemies (referee Joey Crawford finds himself in select company), but his biggest one is the most powerful man in the sport of basketball.
The "substantial sanctions" that David Stern leveled against the San Antonio Spurs recently were a clear message from the outgoing commissioner. Even with one foot out of the door, we all were reminded that the sheriff is still in charge, and there's nothing that Spurs' head coach Gregg Popovich (or his four rings) can do about it.
Were the Spurs right in sending their star players home at the back end of a four-games-in-five-nights stretch? That answer depends on a number of different variables. But what is clear is that Stern and the NBA's league office will be extremely vigilant when it comes to monitoring the Spurs going forward.
No longer will Popovich be able to save his veterans' legs by excusing them from road trips or giving them a "DNP—Old" designation in the box score. With the 36-year-old Duncan at the tail end of his career, he needs every advantage that he can get. Unfortunately for him, Stern just took one of those major advantages away.
4) Russell Westbrook: Himself
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Russell Westbrook sees his own worst enemy every time he looks into the mirror.
Top 10 player? Check. Most athletic point guard in the Association? Check. Capable of single-handedly preventing his team from winning an NBA title? Check.
Westbrook is one of the league's most dynamic players, but he's a bit selfish at times, causing Oklahoma City to work far harder than a team with two extraordinary talents should have to work.
Once the Westbrook becomes the proper complement to Kevin Durant, the Western Conference will be the domain of the Thunder for years to come. But until then, Oklahoma City's biggest threat to NBA immortality is in their own locker room.
3) Kevin Durant: LeBron James
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For a while, Kevin Durant's worst enemy was teammate Russell Westbrook. With Westbrook (hopefully) divorcing himself of his selfish ways, Durant's main foe these days is Miami Heat forward LeBron James.
That's not to say that the two of them aren't friendly. Durant and James worked out together during the past two offseasons, and they were compatriots on the U.S. Men's Olympic Team last summer. But along with their genuine friendship comes an unspoken rivalry between the two best players in the game today.
Simply put, Durant will never be considered James' equal unless he leads the Thunder to a title. The bar was officially set by James back in June, and Durant will be forced to clear it if he ever wants to be thought of as one of the NBA's all-time greats.
2) Dwyane Wade: Father Time
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These days, Father Time is Public Enemy No. 1 for Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade. It's a battle that no one can win, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a way to compensate and/or prepare for the inevitable decline.
The myriad injuries suffered by Wade have forced the nine-year veteran to become a little more crafty in his "old age." No longer can he attack the basket with the same reckless abandon as he did five years ago.
Instead, he's chosen to defer to LeBron James more in a calculated decision to reduce the wear and tear on his body. This season, Wade is averaging just 15.7 shot attempts per game, 2.5 shots less than what he averaged back in 2010-11.
1) LeBron James: Dan Gilbert
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None of us will soon forget the missive that Cleveland Cavaliers' owner Dan Gilbert typed (in Comic Sans font, no less) after LeBron James spurned his former team to join the Miami Heat. Gilbert guaranteed that his Cavs would win an NBA championship before James, but that promise was for naught once the Heat took home the Larry O'Brien trophy this past June.
While Gilbert still holds a fair amount of animosity towards the former cornerstone of his franchise, the Cavaliers don't pose much of an actual threat to James or the Heat.
Thanks in large part to James (who just happens to be the best player in the league), Miami is well-positioned to repeat as NBA champions. And unlike Gilbert predicted, James didn't bring any sort of "dreaded spell and bad karma" with him to South Beach.
Sleep well, Dan Gilbert.