Who Will Go Down As Our Generation's NBA Hero?
I turn 20 this August. I've been watching the NBA pretty much since I came out of the womb.
I'm old enough to remember bits of Michael Jordan's second three peat, particularly the 1998 Finals series against the Jazz.
I remember more of the Kobe-Shaq tandem in LA and how it blew up. Given that I always thought Shaq was cool, I was soured on Kobe from there. The rape stuff just sealed it.
And I remember LeBron entering the league above all. I remember watching him play and thinking, "man, this guy's gonna be it." Having grown up on tales of Jordan from my older brothers, I finally had a response. Vince Carter and Allen Iverson weren't gonna be it, but finally my generation had our own gregarious, larger than life basketball superstar.
Until 11:30am on the 9th of July, 2010 (Australian Eastern Standard Time).
It was at that moment, when LeBron announced he was going to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh down at the Miami Heat, that I realised once and for all he would never be that trans-generational superstar that I had believed he would be.
Sure, he's still a great player. Down in Miami with Wade and Bosh, he's gonna win at least three rings. Maybe more, if Kobe's body finally breaks down for good. He'll make the Hall Of Fame for sure.
But in giving up a chance to create his own legacy for agreeing to share one with Wade (and, to a lesser extent, Bosh), he's given up his chance at immortality.
Once I got over this shock (and the celebration that my Warriors would get David Lee), I started thinking about who will be my generation's superstar.
Our grandparents had Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Our parents had Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and then Michael Jordan. Who will we have?
Kobe? Kobe's a brilliant player, he has a ring for every finger on his right hand and will probably go down as a top-10 all time player when all is said and done.
But to truly be a superstar, you have to also be universally loved. You didn't have to be a Bulls fan to love Michael Jordan — every kid on a court everywhere wanted to Be Like Mike.
Whatever Kobe has achieved and will achieve on the court, he'll never touch that kind of popularity. I'm sure even he knows it.
It can't be Dwyane Wade either. For as much as LeBron has cheapened his legacy by jumping onto Wade's team, Wade has also sold himself short by allowing LeBron to be there. While he'll probably wind up with at least one more ring (and Finals MVP) than LeBron when all is said and done, let's not forget he won that ring with the help of Shaq who still had gas in the tank then.
Dwight Howard? He definitely has the personality — he's one of the NBA's most gregarious superstars and kids everywhere wear his jersey. He's also a 20/10 per game player and can lead a team.
However, we want our superstars, our immortals, to be perfect or at least so ridiculously brilliant we can ignore their flaws (Chamberlain's FT shooting). Garden variety All Stars can get away with Achilles heels — not our superstars.
While Howard's free throw shooting is a black mark, what stands out more is his seeming unwillingness to stand up and absolutely dominate a game, particularly in the clutch. Would MJ shy away from taking a big shot just because he didn't want to get fouled? No sirree.
So not Howard. Who then? I thought for a second before I landed on the man.
Durant's still young - he's 22 this September. However, he's already established himself as the outright franchise player for the Thunder and a top-5 player in the NBA.
He's the youngest player to ever win a scoring championship in the NBA, while averaging 50/40/90 for the season. His defense has improved every year to the point where he can now passably mark an opposition's best wing player. His rebounding also improves every season. And he gets all these stats without hogging the ball.
And it's not just about the stats with Durant. He does the little things — hustle plays, making extra passes, defensive reads etc — which you really want your superstar to do.
His attitude also stands out. Durant doesn't care about his brand, his image, his whatever — he just wants to win. Why else would he have signed a five year extension with the Zombie Sonics with the only fanfare being a Tweet of his own? Because they have a great young team with great chemistry who will be title contenders in a couple of years if they can hold together and he knows this.
Finally, he just seems like a good guy. His tweets and his interviews all give off that vibe. Unlike LeBron, Durant doesn't seem to be self-obsessed or narcissistic off the court. One of the best quotes I heard after he announced his extension was "Ironically LeBron, who is so obsessed with his public image, got a lesson in image management from Kevin Durant, who is not." I can't imagine Durant ever putting us all through anything like the Summer of LeBron.
So, in conclusion, the King is dead, long live the Durantula.
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