This is the NBA Finals that analysts, fans and the league itself, wanted to see.
Sure, the San Antonio Spurs were a good story, showcasing what true team basketball can look like. The Boston Celtics’ last run with the ‘Big Three’ was captivating — but really, the NBA is about stars and story lines. The Miami Heat against the Oklahoma City Thunder feature the best of both.
The Thunder and Heat are a classic good versus evil battle, or at least that’s how the narrative reads. The Heat feature two of the best players on the planet, and the most-hated “Big Three” in the league. They didn’t build their team. Three of the best players decided to play with each other, rather than try to beat each other.
The Thunder’s “Big Three” was built the old fashioned way. They drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. They convinced them to buy into the system. They play as a team (though they aren’t exactly the Spurs) and, as the storyline goes, do things “the right way.”
And of course, the sexiest storyline is the battle for the best player alive belt between Durant and LeBron James.
To many, Durant is the antithesis of LeBron. LeBron left the small-town Cleveland Cavaliers for the flash of Miami. Durant chose to sign an extension with small-town Oklahoma City and loves playing there.
LeBron is constantly watching his “brand” and famously said that he wants to be a global icon.
Durant cares only about being the best basketball player in the world. Rather than resting up and doing endorsement deals this summer, Durant was traveling cross-country playing in pickup games at Rucker Park.
LeBron is viewed as arrogant, and probably always will after the infamous “Not two, not three, not four…” proclamation before his team ever played a game. Durant is looked at as the humble kid that loves his mom and just wants to play ball.
And those story lines don’t even consider the fact that these are two phenomenal teams playing their best basketball right now. From a television ratings standpoint, every casual fan will tune in to see the best two players in the world battle for their first Championship, while hardcore fans will watch to see the best athletes in the world playing at an incredibly high level.
We can’t talk about these NBA Finals without discussing what it means for LeBron. After the Heat stared at a 3-2 deficit in the Eastern Conference Finals, the talk was what to do with Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade and LeBron after they were bounced from the playoffs. There was also debate whether LeBron would ever regain his switch…the same switch that saw him eviscerate the Detroit Pistons in 2007. Fans wondered aloud if LeBron truly had the Jordan-like DNA to step on an opponent’s throat when he had to.
Then LeBron had the game of his career in Game 6, a focused second half in Game 7, and now has the opportunity to re-write his legacy all over again.
LeBron was magnificent last series, scoring 25+ points in all seven games. Just two other players had done that against the Celtics; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974 and Elgin Baylor in 1962.
But those numbers are a stark contrast to what LeBron does in the NBA Finals. In 10 NBA Finals games, LeBron is averaging a pedestrian (for him) 19.5 points per game and has never scored more than 25 points. He’s 0-2 in NBA Finals, and after he disappeared late in pivotal games last year against the Dallas Mavericks, there are real questions as to whether he’ll ever get over the hump.
LeBron said he’ll play this Finals with no regrets, and whatever happens he is “going to be satisfied with that. I’m going to be happy with it because I know I’m going to give it my all.”
That sounds nice. Nice enough that maybe LeBron has even convinced himself to believe it. But it’s certainly not true.
LeBron isn’t just fighting for a championship or his legacy. He’s fighting for his future.
With Kobe having only a few years left, Durant is LeBron’s No. 1 rival. He’s just 23 years old and on a team filled with young, hungry, talented players. These guys will be around for a while. If the Heat don’t win this championship, there’s no guarantee they’ll ever get one, as there’s a real possibility that the Thunder can turn a title this year into a potential Spurs or Lakers-type dynasty for years to come.
Starting tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, there will be drama. History will be written. LeBron’s legacy will either be re-evaluated, or further cemented. We’ll see if Durant can show the world he’s actually the best player in the league.
When the season started, this is the series many predicted would end up being our NBA Final. Now that we’re here, there’s only one prediction that everyone seems to agree on.
This final is going to be very, very good.