The 2012 NBA Finals match-up between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder was fantastic and certainly lived up to all the anticipated hype. When you think of the superstars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant squaring off for all the marbles, it was destined to be a great series.
As I watched these two mega stars will their respective teams through the earlier round of the playoffs, I couldn’t help but marvel at the striking similarities between KD and LBJ in terms of what each meant to their squads.
Both ultra talented athletes have had to deal with the high expectations placed on them long before their facial hair set in and both were left with no other choice but to step into the spotlight and be the man on their respective teams. James did so in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio while Durant became the adopted son of Oklahoma City.
In 2010, when James announced he would be taking his talents elsewhere on his much publicized “Decision” special, his popularity immediately dropped like a rock and the burning of #23 Cavs jerseys in the streets suddenly were in vogue.
Meanwhile, only a matter of days apart, Durant quietly announced on Twitter that he’d re-up with OKC for another five years. It was about this point that the comparisons between the two superstars heightened and the ire of NBA fans around the world started to rise as they voiced their displeasure with LeBron and his decision. James immediately was cast into the role of villain and the mega talented kid with the humble attitude and boyish smile was anointed the hero.
I’ve always found it fascinating that our society always seems to be on the hunt for a hero to cheer for and a villain to boo against and it would appear that King James’ decision made it easy to pick sides. In fact, he turned himself into public enemy #1 and arguably became the most revered and scrutinized player in the history of the NBA.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all implying that Durant isn’t worthy of the attention and praise that’s been thrown his way. He’s a three time scoring champ who was picked by TNT analyst, Kenny “The Jet” Smith back in 201o to be “the best player in the league in three years”
Without question, Durant is OKC’s heart and soul and his ability to make big shots were on center stage all season long and that carried throughout the playoffs. Add his likeable personality, desire to be a better all around player and the fact that he hugs and kisses his mom sitting court side at every game automatically makes him the kind of player you want to see succeed.
His love for basketball is evident and made even clearer during last year’s NBA lock-out when he was spotted traveling all over the US playing in every possible charity pick up game he could find. In fact, I recall chatting with rapper and big time hoops fan, Jadakiss who shared a story with me about Durant’s hunger and love for the game. You see, Jada had the privilege of coaching Durant’s team during a charity game in Winston Salem. They were down at the half and as Jada described, he went over to the scorer’s table to look at the stats and, “he absolutely turned the game around and we ended up winning by 10 or 11 points.” And this was just during a charity pick up game!
If you want another example of this kid’s greatness, take a look at game 2 of the NBA Finals where there was an obvious foul on KD at the hands of LeBron James during the dying seconds of the game. He subsequently missed the shot and his team lost the game. A bit of controversy was created and after the game several reporters wanted to get Durant’s thoughts on it. He simply silenced the reporters during the post game press conference interview with five simple words, “I missed the shot, man”. No finger pointing, no excuses, he took full responsibility.
Again, how can you not love this kid???
Aside from his own personal attributes and skill, the popularity of the second overall pick in the 2007 draft pick got a shot in the arm by LeBron James and his decision whether we’d like to admit it or not. I lost track of the number of articles I read or people I spoke with who weren’t OKC fans but were cheering for them during the NBA Finals because they didn’t want LeBron and the Heat to win.
James’ masterful performance during the NBA Finals may have silenced the boos for the time being but it was Durant’s approach to the loss and the humility he displayed that will continue to make him a winner in the minds of many.