NEW ORLEANS — During his first six seasons in the NBA, LeBron James led his team to five winning records and four playoff appearances, losing twice in the second round, once in the conference finals and once in the NBA Finals. He was 24, two months from 25, when his seventh season started.
During his first six seasons in the NBA, Kevin Durant led his team to four winning records and four playoff appearances, losing once in the first round, once in the second round, once in the conference finals and once in the NBA Finals. He had just turned 25 when his seventh season—this season—started.
Seems similar? Sure.
Still, there's been one key difference when it comes to the Thunder star.
He has taken less, well, heat.
The public and press have gushed, with good reason, about Durant's spectacular, MVP-worthy statistics this season—all while remaining largely quiet about his championship quest. There's been little conversation, prior to the upcoming All-Star weekend, about the consequences if he fails to capture his first title this June.
Naturally, many gave him a pass for falling short last postseason following Russell Westbrook's season-ending knee injury in the first round.
But compare that understanding afforded to Durant with the relentless scrutiny that James endured in his own seventh season, a season that ended in the Eastern Conference Finals and marked the end of his time with the Cavaliers. In that season, and the six before, James never had a teammate close to Westbrook's caliber to lose.
In light of all that, Bleacher Report posed a question to James after a win in Phoenix on Tuesday.
When does he think the pressure will truly shift to Durant to take the Larry O'Brien trophy?
"When I retire," James replied. "When I retire. They're still talking about, am I going to win a third? You know..."
James was smiling as he said this, a sandwich resting on his lap, his knees cooling in ice.
But he was serious.
"But I think, for him, obviously he's an unbelievable player," James said. "And I'm one of the guys that just don't, I don't believe that winning a championship defines your career, you know. There's so many greats that never won, and it's unfortunate that they didn't."
James used to be in their club until he broke through in 2012 and again in 2013.
Those were James' ninth and 10th seasons.
Michael Jordan, as James was often reminded, won a ring in his seventh season.
Again, that's where Durant is now.
"But I don't know when he's gonna start hearing it," James said of his friend. "I hope he doesn't. I don't think he should have to go through that. What he's been able to do for that city of Oklahoma City, what he's been able to do for his teammates is amazing. And we'll just see what happens with it. He's going to be in contention every year because of the player that he is, and they've got a great team. And we'll see what happens."
Maybe as soon as this spring.
That's when James may again be the last man standing in the way of Durant claiming his first crown.