Thursday, September 13, 2012

LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant: Friendship Fuels NBA's Biggest Rivalry - Thunderous Intentions

LeBron James and Kevin Durant are working out together this summer for the second year in a row. The biggest individual rivals in the league right now are apparently pretty close friends.

A lot of people think this is a weird thing to happen in sports and in the NBA in particular. A lot of people think there was a time when the hatred among the biggest rivalries in the league was better for the sport. Bird and Magic hated each other. Jordan wanted to kill anyone in his path. This “new” friendship that we are seeing in the NBA among its superstars has made the league softer than it used to be.

People are divided on how they feel about this. Skip Bayless leads one side that this means LeBron “owns” Durant now. He has a psychological advantage over him because he is keeping is enemy close to him. It would be in Durant’s best interest to have nothing to do with LeBron in the summers and instead of being friends with him, try to hate him.

Then there are those who like this. It’s cool that LeBron and Durant are this close and that the two best players in the league despite being on different teams are working out together like this to help each other get better. It’s love and respect, which is probably stronger than hate by the way.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this at first. I want to hate LeBron in a sports sense. I want to see him lose vs. Durant. I want to see that Jordan-look in Durant’s eyes (Durant does have a similar look, only problem is he looks like a 10-year old who is pouting) when he has the ball and LeBron is guarding him, like he wants to destroy him, embarrass him and then laugh at him later. I thought that was the best way.

But now I’m not so sure. After watching Durant as closely as possible this past season, I know without a shadow of a doubt that he in no way is less prepared or has less desire to beat LeBron simply because he is his friend. Durant is as competitive as there is in this league. If you’ve been around sports, you see it in how he plays. He knows only one speed on the basketball court. It’s not a coincidence that he is always scoring the most points in All-Star games or dropping 66 in games that don’t matter in the offseason. That’s part of Durant’s drive. He wants to be the best at all times and he wants it now. He doesn’t have to hate to get there.

What Durant and LeBron are doing in the summers has just one goal: they want to get better. LeBron’s not doing this to learn Durant’s tricks and get a one-up on him in that way. Durant isn’t either. This isn’t the first time this has happened in the NBA either. The best players have been friends and hung out in the offseason for years. We just think we are hearing about it now for the first time because it’s 2012 and LeBron and Durant are tweeting about it.

So I don’t think Durant is making a mistake by doing this, not at all. In fact, this isn’t even that big of a deal. Really it’s just two NBA players working out with each other in the summer. No big deal.

Durant will continue to creep closer to LeBron next season. We saw LeBron hit the absolute apex of his career last year. But Durant wasn’t that far off. He outplayed LeBron in one of their regular season meetings and then outplayed him in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. LeBron was comfortable and seemingly doing whatever he wanted in the Finals but he did not individually dominate Durant in the way people want to remember. Durant averaged 30.6 points per game and shot .548 percent from the field in the Finals. He wasn’t dominated, just overall he was outplayed. At 23 years old, that is acceptable. It was a learning experience and Durant and the Thunder will be back next year more prepared.

LeBron and the Heat still have a few years left in them to be competing for titles. A lot depends on the health of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh but if all goes well in the pathetic Eastern Conference, they will be back in the Finals waiting for Durant and the Thunder if they can get past the new-look Lakers.

It’s the newest rivalry in sports, LeBron vs. Durant. It has the potential to be remembered as one of the best rivalries in the history of the NBA. LeBron and Durant working out together in the summers, winning gold medals together and loving and respecting each other will only make it that much better.

Thanks Durant, now I don’t hate LeBron anymore.

Tags: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder

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