LeBron James vs. Tim Duncan: Two Polar Opposite Paths To NBA Superstardom
After their first meeting in the 2007 NBA Finals, LeBron James and Tim Duncan are together once again on the NBA Finals stage in 2013.
Each superstar was selected No. 1 overall in the NBA draft, each has gone on to win multiple MVP awards and each will be honored in that special wing of Basketball's Hall of Fame upon retirement.
However, the paths to NBA superstardom that James and Duncan have taken along the way could not have been more different.
James' hometown of Akron, Ohio, is the polar opposite of the United States Virgin Islands town where Duncan grew up.
Just before entering the NBA, Duncan passed up several opportunities to declare for the draft, opting instead to graduate from college. James, meanwhile, criss-crossed the nation with his high school team in a manner similar to the Kentucky Wildcats before leaping directly into the league.
The San Antonio Spurs' and Cleveland Cavaliers' teams that surrounded James and Duncan upon their NBA arrival, respectively, were also as different as Ricky Davis is to David Robinson.
Despite these differences, though, James and Duncan will be forever celebrated as Hall of Famers all the same.
Tim Duncan was born and raised in Christiansted, a town on Saint Croix in the United States Virgin Islands. Growing up, he was a swimmer who had aspirations of making the Olympic Swim Team one day.
It wasn't until a hurricane destroyed the only Olympic-sized pool on his island around the time that Duncan was a ninth grader, that he began playing basketball.
Seeking refuge from the harsh Ohio winters, LeBron James spent his childhood inside a gym playing basketball. He played AAU for a team based in northeast Ohio called the Ohio Shooting Stars that achieved national notoriety before James even entered high school.
As opposed to choosing between swimming and basketball, the biggest decision James made heading into ninth grade was which high school to attend.
He eventually selectet Akron St. Vincent St. Mary's and he would then travel the nation representing the school over the next four seasons.
Preparing for life in the NBA
Tim Duncan played in 128 games for Wake Forest University before being selected No. 1 overall in the 1997 NBA draft.
While he certainly improved each season, Duncan would have also been a top pick if he left early at any point in his college career. He decided to stay for all four years, however, graduating from Wake Forest before entering the NBA.
James was selling out college venues all over the country prior to making his jump directly from high school to the Association in 2003, six years after Duncan. From New York to Los Angeles, fans packed arenas from coast to coast to catch a glimpse of the basketball prodigy that Sports Illustrated had dubbed "The Chosen One."
The thought of attending college for even one season was never really a consideration for James, let alone the concept of staying for all four years like Duncan.
Breaking into the league
When Duncan first joined the San Antonio Spurs, he was greeted by David Robinson.
Robinson was a perennial All-Star, former MVP and a future Hall of Famer. He not only helped Duncan adjust to life as a superstar, but also helped him win very early in his NBA career.
Playing alongside each other, Robinson and Duncan led the Spurs to an NBA championship in the 1998-99 season.
James, meanwhile, joined a Cleveland Cavaliers' team that had been led by Ricky Davis in scoring the year before James' arrival as a rookie.
Davis later told Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports Florida that he initially thought "James was just going to be another addition to help me score."
It turns out that wasn't actually the plan in Cleveland. It wouldn't be until after Davis was traded away that James would lead the Cavaliers to their first Eastern Conference championship.
Two of the best to ever do it
The 37-year-old Duncan quietly signed extensions that kept him a member of the San Antonio Spurs throughout his NBA career.
James, meanwhile, redefined the spectacle of free agency in professional sports by the circus-like process that ended with his decision to join the Miami Heat during the summer of 2010.
On the court, however, both players—although polar opposites—will go down as two of the very best players to ever play the game.
Both have been crowned NBA champions and will be remembered among the best at their respective positions.
James told Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin, “If I just look at the last 15 years, (Duncan's) probably been the most consistent, most dominant player that we’ve had."
If someone asks whoever will be the NBA's next great superstar that same question once LeBron turns 37, the answer could very well be LeBron James.
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