LeBron James would be on the tip of most experts' tongues when probed about who the best player in the game is today.
Over the past few years, it was a bitter debate between Kobe Bryant fans and LeBron James fans, but these days, it seems as if LeBron might finally be overtaking Kobe. LeBron is by far the most athletic player in the game today, and his jump shot is also improving each year. While the jury is still out on his man-to-man defense, his help defense (especially on the fast break) is superb.
I, as you may know, am a member of the Kobe Bryant Camp, but Kobe's declining athleticism and injuries have slowed him a bit. Don't get me wrong, I would still give the Black Mamba the last shot any day of the week, but that's not really the issue here.
The issue at stake here is the biggest of them all, legacy. Every player who walks onto the NBA hardwood dreams of creating his own NBA legacy, and they all want to be the best. Unfortunately for 98 percent of them, only the extreme few can hold the title of "best."
There are also many different kinds of best as well. There is the best in the game today, the best of that position, the best of the decade, and of course the Best of All Time. While the latter may always belong to Michael Jordan, thousands of other players will chase his legacy and vie to become one of the league's "best."
Kobe has held the title as league's best for a good number of seasons now, with LeBron gaining on him in his rearview mirror each campaign. It seems as if LeBron has a chance to really start solidifying his legacy and create a memorable time of his best years, filled with championships and glory. There is only one problem with that dream scenario...
As LeBron has chased after Kobe these past three years, Kevin Durant has quietly chased them both. He has developed into a lanky scoring machine with unlimited distance, and a still-unknown potential. Each year his ppg average has gone up five points, and it's not inconceivable that it will once again. Durant is also able to disrupt and block numerous shots due to the length of his arms, which also makes his fade-away impossible to block.
Kevin's stats in his first three seasons are very impressive, and they are only going to get better in the coming seasons. His scoring will continue to dominate, his court vision and basketball I.Q. will grow with each possession, and his rebounding and shot-blocking ability will always be a threat at his size.
Many would take this time to interject, "LeBron is on a superteam now and can't be stopped."
That is ridiculous.
LeBron does now share the stage with two other superstars (Chris Bosh?), but this hurts his legacy as much as it helps it. Now LeBron has an amazing chance to win championships, but almost no chances to win another MVP award. He will also be fighting Dwyane Wade for the Finals MVP (sorry, Bosh) each year they get there.
Then there will also always be the nagging whispers in the shadows that LeBron had to team up with superstars instead of battling them. LeBron may have a more comfortable bed than me, but those whispers will make it hard for him to sleep at night.
All the while, Kevin Durant's situation in Oklahoma just keeps getting better. His co-stars, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green, continue to improve and grow into major contributors, and the Thunder keep picking up great potential players like Serge Ibaka.
Add to this that Kevin Durant is reaching the superstar plateau, and the Thunder may be one addition away from being serious title contenders for the foreseeable future.
Kevin is also starting to gain popularity. It wasn't an easy road for him being on smaller-market team(s), but these days everyone loves to see this kid play. They love his silky smooth jump shot, they love his explosive drives to the basket, and most of all, they love how humble this kid truly seems to be.
He's not talking about becoming some worldwide mogul billionaire; he's outside in the morning talking to his neighbors as he gets the paper. He likes where he lives, and the people who live there genuinely like him back. Kevin is already endearing himself to his community in a big way, and the his loyal following is growing at an exponential rate.
Kevin lacks most of the hardware that LeBron currently possesses. But trust me, these things will come. He'll have an MVP after this season (bank that), he'll have a gold medal in 2014, and he'll eventually win championships (yes, plural). And when he wins those championships, he will be the undisputed Finals MVP every single time.
This is not to say that LeBron will not have his say in stunting Kevin's legacy. He will have his opportunities to build his resume, and he will do so. That being said, LeBron has some serious competition when it comes to being remembered as the best player in the league in his prime years, as Kobe did before him, and Michael before him, and so on.