On September 29th Kevin Durant will turn 22 years old and he will have already accomplished more than most do in their entire lives. He has already silenced all of his critics, changed the culture of a franchise and made his way into the NBA record book. Despite all of these accomplishments, it wasn’t until this summer that Durant had what many would describe as his coming out party and it came on international soil, at the World Championships. KD made headlines for all the right reasons this offseason, however the summer of 2010 still belonged to Lebron James. The attention Lebron has been getting of late is no surprise considering he completely changed the landscape of the NBA by deciding to combine forces with Wade and Bosh in South Beach. While the attention is warranted, the ongoing comparisons to 5-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant are not. Although Lebron and Kobe are considered to be two of the league’s best, Bryant’s resume continues to make LBJ seem like a young and unaccomplished superstar. Lebron’s talent is undeniable and is unquestionably on par with Kobe’s, however in basketball, like in any sport, greatness is measured primarily by winning. The fact is, Kobe’s 5 championship rings and 14-years of NBA experience put him at a whole different level than Lebron or any of the game’s other young stars. Still only 25 years of age, the King has plenty of time to earn the comparisons to the 32-year old Bryant, but for now the most appropriate parallel for Lebron is with the younger, less experienced Kevin Durant.
Kobe may be the most accomplished superstar in the game, however Lebron and Durant are undoubtedly the future of the NBA and the faces of the league going forward. Although their games are very different, their resumes and their impact on the league have followed a similar path. Lebron dominates with force, often using his superior strength to thrive offensively, while Durant tends to use his quickness, finesse and basketball IQ to score from wherever he needs to on the court. Both have improved tremendously on the defensive end, as they both averaged a block and a steal per game last season. Lebron is coming off back to back MVP seasons in his 6th and 7th years in the league, while Durant is poised to be a perennial candidate for the award entering his 4th year. Neither made their playoff debut until their 3rd year in the NBA. Their young careers have been remarkably similar up until this historic offseason that saw these two stars go in opposite directions.
Both KD and LBJ made headlines this summer, only one took them by force while the other took them with a quiet humility, ironically the same way they play their games on the court. Lebron made it very clear that he wanted this summer to be about him, waiting until his eventual teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh made their decisions before overshadowing them with his own televised “Decision”. The world watched as Lebron went on national television to announce that he will be joining the Miami Heat. The self-indulgent ESPN special served as the most public break up scenario of all-time, as James sat in front of an audience of almost 10 million and declared he will be leaving the city and the fans of Cleveland. Whether or not Lebron took the easy way out by choosing to play with two other superstars is debatable, however the fact remains, he will be leaving small-market Cleveland to go ring chasing in a much larger market with the Heat. Durant also signed a new contract this summer, only his extension with the Thunder was a lot less attention-grabbing. KD’s decision was based on his loyalty to the fans that have embraced him in Oklahoma City and his intent to lead a young team to a championship. Lebron had signed an extension with the Cavs back in 2006, however his was a three-year deal signed with the intention of becoming a free agent at the same time as fellow all-stars Wade and Bosh. Durant’s recent extension was signed for the maximum five-years and his intention was clear, he wants to remain a member of the Thunder for as long as they will have him. Lebron took the summer off to reflect on his new contract, declining to play for his country in the World Championships. KD not only played for Team USA, but he used the experience to grow as a player and as a person, impressively winning MVP and taking his game to a whole new level. Although Lebron was once one of the most well-liked people in sports, he has now been cast as a villain, the 6th most hated athlete on the recent Q Score, while KD undoubtedly welcomes the role of a hero.
Durant’s resume is certainly that of a hero. Last season he became the youngest player in NBA history to win the scoring title and the only one to ever do it as a 21-year old. He accomplished this feat while leading the Thunder to a 27-win improvement over the previous season and averaging career highs in almost every single counted statistic. His biggest criticism this summer came from Coach Mike Krzyzewski who called Durant “too unselfish” and challenged his best player to be more dominant offensively. That didn’t seem to be a problem for KD who quickly responded and averaged 33 points in the final three games, leading Team USA to a World Championship. Through it all, his character has never been questioned and to this day he remains the NBA’s most humble and unselfish superstar. This summer he became the face of USA basketball and while he may embrace it, he refuses to acknowledge it.
“You know, I don’t want to stand out too much. I’d rather it be a group, but it is what it is. I’ve just got to let my teammates know in practice, without even telling them, that I don’t think I’m ahead of anybody. We’re a group. I think I’m doing a good job of that. They all know that, and that’s all who really needs to know that. I’m here for them, and if they need me to take 10 shots or get 10 assists, it don’t matter because I’m going to do whatever they need me to do“.
He heads into the 2010-2011 season as Vegas’ odds on favourite (5 to 2) to win what would be his first NBA MVP award. However, he would be the first to tell you that an MVP trophy means nothing to him and he would much rather be holding up a different trophy this coming June. Although a championship may not be in the cards for the Thunder this season, it may not be long before Durant gets a few rings to go a long with the multiple MVP’s he is destined to win. For now the attention remains focused on Lebron James, though you won’t hear Durant complain about that, don’t be surprised when KD surpasses him as the league’s most dynamic player and cements his legacy as one of the greatest of all time.
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Written by Josh Lewis