The NBA Finals are underway, with Game 1 going to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Dustin takes a look at the battle of Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James and how their choices so far in their career have turned the match-up into a battle of good vs. evil.
At the surface, it would seem that this years’ NBA Finals is a battle of good vs. evil as Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder take on LeBron James and the Miami Heat, but it’s much more than that, early in their careers, Durant and James have faced many similar situations, it’s how they’ve handled them that has defined them up until now.
On July 8th, 2010, LeBron made ‘The Decision,’ an hour-long television show where he announced that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join forces with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat, a move that all but sealed his fate as he fell from beloved athlete to hated villain in a matter of minutes. That the special took place in Cleveland only made it worse, fans burned memorabilia, stores filled their clearance sections with LeBron merchandise and even the owner of the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, posted a fiery message to Cavalier fans lambasting James and his inability to deliver a championship to the city.
Just a day before, on July 7th, Kevin Durant was faced with a similar decision. He could opt out of his contract with the Thunder and pursue free agency, but Durant didn’t announce his decision in front of camera crews, he didn’t broadcast it to the world. Instead, Durant sent a message out via his Twitter account, that he had signed a five-year extension to stay with the Thunder. The simplicity of his announcement earned the young player not only the respect of elder NBA veterans, but also the fans in Oklahoma City.
The two are widely considered to be the two best players currently in the league and their meeting in the Finals is seen as the foundation for the next few years in a rivalry akin to Bird vs. Magic or the Bulls and the Pistons of the ‘90s.
The constant scrutiny on James has reached levels where even his accomplishments don’t silence the critics who attack his lack of a fourth-quarter killer instinct and say that his inability to finish and his hesitance to take the last shot are what history will remember more than his 3 league MVPs and his statistical achievements. Fans were already looking to his lack of championships and were skeptical of his ability to close out the Heat’s Eastern Conference finals match-up with the Boston Celtics, even though in Game 6, LeBron literally demonstrated human ‘beast-mode.’
Durant however, has already begun to make a case for his clutchness late in games this postseason, hitting game winners against the Dallas Mavericks, in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals this year and a late three-pointer to lift the Thunder over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Conference semi-finals. While these shots were impressive, they were nothing compared to the Conference Finals where he consistently erupted in the fourth-quarters against the Spurs, as the Thunder were able to advance to their first NBA Finals since moving to Oklahoma City.
It seems like everyone not in Miami is pulling for Durant to get his first ring as opposed to James, showing that even though two years have passed since ‘The Decision,’ fans still aren’t prepared to let James off the hook for how he handled his exit or the extravagant pre-season party the Heat held where James infamously declared the Heat would win at least 9 titles together.
The headlines of a Heat/Thunder finals practically write themselves, would James be able to silence his critics and get his first ring? Would Durant show-up James and begin talks that maybe he is the league MVP? What would happen in the fourth quarters, would one team just run away with the series or would it be the knock-down drag-out series so many predicted?
Well, if Game 1 was any indication, it’s all of the above. The Thunder were able to win with a dominating second-half performance, overcoming an early deficit to win 105-94. James finished with 30 points and 9 rebounds with just seven points in the fourth quarter while Durant finished with 36 points, 8 rebounds and 17 fourth-quarter-points.
Even though a champion will be crowned in the coming weeks; that will hardly be the end. If LeBron gets his first ring, fans will just mention that he only has one title 9 years into his career. It’s likely he’ll face this sort of scrutiny the rest of his career, regardless of what he does on the court or off it. If Durant wins, he gets to sit at the top of the league, possibly considered its’ best player and also a key piece of a potential dynasty in the making.
It’s not the fairest of scenarios, but when one declares themselves King of the court, they should be ready for the criticism, when they need help up onto the throne.
Dustin Brewer is a writer/co-editor-in-chief for hefferbrew.wordpress.com/hefferbrew.tumblr.com. He’s a lifelong Lakers fan, but even he is pulling for Durant and the Thunder to win it all.