By now we have all heard the praise and the criticism. We have seen the celebrations and the heads hanging low. We heard the arguments, rational and irrational, informed and ignorant. But believe it or not there is still a bit more to be said about the two players I am writing about:
Kevin Durant, Lebron James and their positions not only in this year’s playoffs but in the sports media spin cycle covering their careers.
I love them both and you won’t find any ESPN First Take style bashing in this piece. But when I watched Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder finish off a still very dangerous Spurs team that was being mentioned in the conversation of the BEST TEAMS OF ALL TIME just 4 games prior, it made me think. When I heard the Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr and company talk about seeing KD rise up and be anointed the next Great One and how he is growing up into “the man” before our eyes (all true by the way) it reminded me of a similar story.
Durant has indeed become not only an offensive nightmare (something many including myself saw coming when he unleashed that effortless jumper on the Big 12 in 2006) but a totally unstoppable force who is learning to flourish on the big stage. He can do it offensively from all over the court now and has become a reliable defender with his length and footwork. KD punishes smaller defenders with his size and blows by the bigs with his quickness and ball handling. Watching him take over in the second half of games 4 and 6 against the Spurs was just plain special.
But it was also reminiscent.
In 2006, Lebron James carried a MUCH less talented Cleveland team to the NBA Finals in the same fashion that Durant has against an equally formidable foe in the Detroit “We always win the East” Pistons. When I say much less talented, it may not be strong enough so let me clarify.
Kevin Durant gets to play with these 4 guys: Russell Westbrook (5th leading scorer in the NBA this year), Serge Ibaka (NBA Defensive POY candidate), James Harden(6th man of the year) and Kendrick Perkins. Pretty good right?
Here are the best guys Lebron dragged to San Antonio in June of 2007: Larry Hughes (he was the second leading scorer on the team…yeah), Zydrunas Ilglauskas, Drew Gooden and Anderson Verajao. Read it again if it didn’t make you chuckle the first time.
(Let it be understood that this is not to discredit KD’s performance at all because he has earned all the praise he’s gotten. It is more to illustrate the selective memory and voluntary ignorance of the sporting media. )
A 23 year old Durant’s numbers against the Spurs in the 2012 Western Conference Finals were fantastic. Here is a breakdown:
Game 1. 27pts, 10 rebs, 4asts and 2stls
Game 2. 31 pts, 5rebs, 5asts and 3stls
Game 3. 22pts, 6rebs, 5asts
Game 4. 36pts, 6rebs, 8asts (Durant went off for 18 of those 36 points in the 4th quarter. He was unguardable)
Game 5. 27pts, 4rebs, 5asts and 3stls
Game 6. 34pts, 14rebs, 5asts
That’s just epic stuff for a 23 year old in his second trip to the Conference Finals. But before we get too caught up and bought in to the media narrative of how Durant is doing things young players haven’t done since Magic or that he is where Lebron should be, let’s pause. Take a breath, and then take a look at Lebron James against the Pistons in 2007 Eastern Conference Finals (with that squad listed above).
Game 1. 10pts, 10rebs, 9asts, 4stls
Game 2. 19pts, 6rebs, 7asts, 3stls
Game 3. 32pts, 9rebs, 9asts, 2stls
Game 4. 25pts, 7rebs, 11asts, 3stls
Game 5. 48pts, 9rebs, 7asts, 2stls (Durant’s 4th quarter of Game 4 was a lower totaled carbon copy of this game, where Lebron single handedly destroyed the Pistons franchise for 25 straight points in a double OT victory.)
Game 6. 20pts, 14rebs, 8asts, 2stls
I made a mistake earlier. Now THAT is epic stuff for a 22 year old in his first ever trip to the Conference Finals. Lebron was aptly if not prematurely anointed “The Chosen one” and said to be the next MJ, Magic, Big O etc. The fact that the Cavs got swept in those NBA Finals was more a reflection of actual basketball and a glaring talent deficit between them and San Antonio. It was not yet “Lebron’s fault”.
Enter “The Decision” to go to the Miami Heat (It’s really hard to believe this is still talked about like a fresh occurrence.)
The difference now is clear. Lebron gets no credit, only blame. He plays the most complete floor game in the NBA on both ends of the ball (he is AVERAGING 30pts, 9rebs and 5asts in the playoffs)and he gets only criticism for shots he didn’t take (even in an All Star game) and even play calls he didn’t draw up. No matter what Lebron does, if he doesn’t make a last second shot from a designated spot over a designated defender, he is a failure. Nevermind that he’s done it before in both regular and post season. Unless James makes the exact play some talking head says needs to be made with the exact t seconds left on the clock, he hasn’t done anything.
That’s right, Lebron James is the most talented and complete player in the NBA and he is widely bashed and disliked for a press conference. By the way ESPN, you can’t play both sides. You cannot choose to air “The Decision” then totally disown and berate it 24 hours later and ever since. You are as much at fault as “The King’s camp”...and fire Bayless and Broussard. James is often called a great guy and a great teammate then massacred in the sports media for being unselfish, while the next article details how Kobe Bryant’s selfishness cost the Lakers a game.
Meanwhile Durant is praised for having a laid back low key way about himself, and for staying with a stacked OKC team. Those first two things are personality traits, and good ones. KD is by all accounts a good guy and I personally like the way he carries himself. That said, he also didn’t have his high school games aired by ESPN or have to deal with droves of press following him everywhere he went since he was 16 years old…the way Lebron James did. I’m just pointing out how that could possibly change a young man’s perspective a bit.
Take this away from what you’ve read. Durant is showing more flashes of what could be Day 0 of his ascension to NBA all time greatness, and I sincerely hope it is. But please don’t let the sports media’s agenda make you forget what he’s doing, can do and how much fun it is to watch even if OKC doesn’t win it all right now. Or if OKC doesn’t keep its core intact. Or if Durant does go play elsewhere.
The greats of the game are much more enjoyable to watch when we think for ourselves.
Tags: kevin durant lebron james