Brian Batty 4/16/14
Basketball rivalries, for the most part, have gone the way of MySpace. There are a lot of reasons for that. AAU ball is one, these guys play with/against each other from 5th grade until they either make it or don’t. Public figures tend to stick together a little more now because it’s kind of a “we get it, they don’t” mentality, which I completely understand. I, along with everyone reading this, can’t really wrap my mind around what it would be like to have every single thing you do scrutinized and taken apart layer by layer until the public finds something negative to jump all over. Those two things are the main reasons that basketball rivalries have come to a halt.
Sure there are still some; Bulls/Heat, Noah/Garnett, Pierce, Rondo, Garnett/Lebron, Warriors/Every single other Western Conference contender, but there is rarely any oomph to them anymore. That being said, Lebron James and Kevin Durant have the potential to get us out of this buddy-buddy rut we’ve fallen into.
Lebron has been the best basketball player in the league for awhile now, but it wasn’t until Game 6 in 2012 against the Celtics, when he scored 45 points and had 15 rebounds, that he became what he is today. The most destructive two way force I’ve ever seen on a basketball court in my lifetime. He beat Durant in the Finals, securing his first championship and officially became the soup de jour of the league and the fans.
Two days before the 2012-2013 regular season kicks off, James Harden got traded from the Thunder for Jeremy Lamb and season 4 of Seinfeld on DVD. I’d still like somebody to explain to me why they did that. I’ll never get it, ever. You give me one sound reason to trade James Harden who is going to make first team All-NBA this year, and I’ll shut up. Until then, that was the dumbest basketball decision I’ve ever seen in my life. Then Westbrook gets hurt in the first round of the playoffs, and the Thunder get knocked out well before they had any plans of getting knocked out. The Heat win it all again, with Ray Allen hitting the biggest shot in NBA history and Lebron, again, gets to sit on the throne.
That led to this summer. There were the stories of Lebron and Durant secluding themselves from the world for a week and going through what they called “Hell Week” workouts. I call “Hell Week” the week leading up to the Wisconsin/Ohio State game every year. I wonder which is harder physically, mentally, and emotionally for the participants. I’m going to go with me on that one, I don’t know about you all. Either way, the reports were starting to become strange to me. Why would you want to work out with your biggest rival? There’s that AAU culture, yet again, ruining basketball. But then I thought about it some more. I have a pretty intense rivalry on the driveways back home. We call them “classics”; it’s me and three of my buddies in a two on two game, best of three to 11, game three goes to 15. I play harder against two of my best friends than I play against random people. I think of it like that. If Durant and Lebron are buddies, you want to beat that guy so bad they never want to play you again. At least I do.
When I read Durant’s “I’m tired of being number two” SI interview I almost jumped out of my Nikes. I was so excited that this nice, welcoming, soft talking guy was finally saying “**** you” to everyone else and going after it. He was number two coming out of high school, number two pick in the draft, and then number two in MVP voting more times than he cared counting about. He came into this season pissed off. He was gunning for it all. MVP, the championship, hell I’m pretty sure he wanted Rookie Of The Year too (Can we just give it to him anyway? How awful is this rookie class anyway?). He was a different guy. When Westbrook went down yet again, he just put his big boy pants on and carried the team like a momma kangaroo. I’ve never seen a guy get ball-denied by two defenders as soon as he crosses half court before. Scoring 35 a game on basically 40/50/90 shooting splits while the entire league is firing at you with double RCP-90’s is freaking heroic. We’re watching something historic right in front of our eyes. AND HES ONLY 25!!!! ALERT!!!! ALERT!!!! HE IS TWENTY FIVE YEARS OLD!!!! He’s still going to get better!
The Finals this year needs to be Miami vs. Oklahoma City. They just have to be. It’s what everyone outside San Antonio and Indiana want to see. The two best players, going head to head for a second time, for bragging rights, and for the championship. Here’s the thing though, if Lebron wins again, all the rivalry talk pretty much dies. You can’t have a rivalry if one guy just keeps winning. Take regular season out of the equation. In the NBA, the playoffs are what matters.
I’ll be rooting for OKC this spring. Not because I hate Miami and hate that Lebron’s the greatest player in my lifetime. Not because Durant is a seemingly great dude and I love watching him play. No I’m rooting for OKC for the future. If OKC wins, there won’t be an angrier person this summer than Lebron. They would each have one, and boy oh boy would NBA rivalries be back in a big way.