LeBron James cynics are, again, hashing out hollow reasons why there’s a new best player on the planet. Their latest submission…Kevin Durant.
This happens once every couple of seasons in the NBA in regards to LeBron James. *Insert Player Here* has a great season, maybe wins an MVP or an NBA title. Aaannnnd…predictably, the guys that claim they don’t hate LeBron come out in droves to snatch the crown from James.
The 2017 primary character of the “I Don’t Hate LeBron…But I Do” novel is Kevin Durant.
Now, before I get to eviscerate this shallow narrative, let me get this out of the way. I’ve long considered Kevin Durant a not-so-distant second when considering the best players in the NBA. However, anyone ready to anoint Durant is laughably off-base.
And here’s why:
Durant was the best player on a perennial playoff team in OKC. A team that was up 3-1 against Golden State in last year’s Western Conference Finals…and blew it. Durant decided that he’d rather join a 73-win team that eliminated him the previous year than attempt to redeem himself as an opponent. That’s all well and good and it’s his prerogative to do so. However, Durant joined a team that won the most games in NBA history, naturally assuming fewer burdens, less responsibility and more freedom to do what he does best..score the basketball. He can afford to disappear for stretches during games. Hell, he can even afford to rest on the bench for 7-10 minutes with no regard as to whether his team will squander a lead or fall too far behind. The level of responsibility that LeBron James has to consistently endure is unmatched by anything Durant is ever asked to hold.
Cleveland beat Golden State in last year’s finals and it took seven games to do it. Durant joining that team — with the exact same core — alleviates an abundance of what comes with being crowned the best player in the world, by default. He does not have to assume a role of leadership, defensive stopper, minutes hog, glue-guy, dirt-doer, or any other role outside of primary scorer…and even that role falls to Steph Curry or Klay Thompson for long stretches.
They’ll try to convince you that since LeBron is the best, he should be able to carry an immeasurable burden. Yet, they do not hold Kevin Durant — the guy they are ready to crown — to that same ridiculous standard. If you don’t think rest, decreased mental / physical responsibility and fewer minutes have an effect at the end of games, you’re fooling yourself.
The LeBron-haters will quickly pull the “Well, LeBron went to Miami!” card in response to this. But, it’s not the same. LeBron left Cleveland to join a 46-win Miami Heat team. Even with his — and Chris Bosh — addition, that team lost to Dallas in the NBA Finals in its first year together. With the realization that winning a title ain’t that easy, LeBron came back and won back-to-back titles with the Heat while assuming more responsibility from Dwyane Wade and Bosh. He went back to Cleveland and brought home a championship in his second season. Never did he join the Spurs, Mavs or Celtics teams that previously eliminated him.
They’ll try to convince you that LeBron started the trend of Big 3’s on NBA championship teams. Me, you and Maury Povich know that’s a lie. Guess these folks have never heard of Earl Monroe joining Clyde Frazier and Willis Reed in New York, the Chicago Bulls adding Dennis Rodman to Jordan and Pippen, or Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen teaming with Paul Pierce in Boston. Each of these — and more — occurred before LeBron joined the Heat. But, hey, why let facts get in the way of winning an argument?
Being the best has a lot to do with what you’re willing to overcome. Durant has had zero obstacles in being crowned.
Kevin Durant didn’t endure the trials of evolving into and leading his team to a title. He just joined one of the best teams in NBA history. He’s really done nothing we haven’t seen him do before.
Also, although Durant is having a great finals, it’s just one year. I’m 100% positive that these folks would never hand the title of best player in the NBA over to LeBron after just one dominant finals showing. Again, it’s unfathomable to me to hold a lower standard to the guy you’re ready to vault into the number one spot. By this logic, there have been approximately 79 best players in the NBA over the past 100 years. It doesn’t work that way. Again, anyone willing to tell you that is either fooling you or trying to convince themselves.
LeBron James hasn’t passed any torch, his team is getting its ass whooped in the series. There is a difference. Durant, as great as he is, has not proven anything that we didn’t already know, other than what would happen if you put 4 hall-of-famers in their prime on the same team. He’ll get his ring and there will be no asterisk (you know, like the ones that the LeBron-haters consistently attempt to place beside his Miami titles).
Most of this is rooted in a much deeper issue with the Anti-LeBron crowd.
While there are a few folks who will flat out tell you they absolutely hate LeBron James (and I appreciate those guys), the majority of LeBron-haters will mask their misplaced fuckery behind very thinly veiled rhetoric. You’ll hear anything from “Don’t be a prisoner of the moment” (although LeBron has been dominant in the NBA for over a decade), to “He disappeared all those years ago against Dallas!” (as if basketball players, like all things in life, don’t evolve into what they become).
Most, if not all, LeBron-haters consider Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson or some other ghost the greatest ever and hold tightly to the notion that no one will ever dethrone their favorite player. There’s always some sense of nostalgia and revisionist history involved.
Again, there is an ongoing trend to hold James to a higher standard than those prior greats. But, hey, that’s a whole other conversation for another day.
Bottom line is James is averaging 32 PPG, 12 REB and 10 AST. He does this while assuming the role as lead guard on offense and primary defender on Durant for most of the game. He’s also averaging more minutes than any player in this series (after leading the league in minutes played in the regular season).
If you’re into handing out best player crowns all willy-nilly every year, that’s cool. But, it totally deflates your credibility. Especially when we went through this same dance two years ago when Steph Curry was the topic of this convenient conversation.
They’ll keep tossing names at James until someone actually maintains a grip. Then, ten years later, they’ll say “See, I told you so!” It’s akin to throwing shit against the wall until something sticks.
To that I say, please keep your turds to yourselves.