Tag Archives: LeBron James

Appreciating Greatness: Choosing to Celebrate (and Not Hate) Kevin Durant and the Warriors

I am a Lakers fan, so I didn’t have a horse in the race in this year’s NBA Finals. However, as an NBA fan, I don’t understand the vitriol being directed at Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. Don’t begrudge other people’s successes.

From a business perspective: Imagine you have the opportunity to take a new job in California with one of the best companies in the world and some of the best coworkers imaginable where you will have the chance to help create one of the best products your industry has ever seen. OR you could stay in your current job in Oklahoma continuing to churn out the same good-but-not-great product year after year. By the way, you have this one hardworking but obsessive coworker who sometimes gets on your nerves and steps on your toes in meetings. Oh, and the company transferred your favorite bearded coworker to Houston just as you were getting started on a potentially revolutionary project together.

From a basketball perspective: The Warriors play a beautiful brand of basketball. They space the floor. They’re unselfish. They have a great coach in Steve Kerr. They have Jerry West in the front office, so you know they’re going to make smart moves in terms of roster assembly (*cough cough OKC traded James Harden!*) Why would anyone NOT want to play for the Warriors? I want to play for the Warriors! I can hit a corner 3!

From a legacy perspective: LeBron backers, you cannot have it both ways. I have the utmost respect and appreciation for LeBron’s greatness, but you cannot deny LeBron went to Miami and joined forces with Wade and Bosh and Allen because it gave him the best chance to win. He returned to Cleveland with Kyrie and Love because it gave him the best chance to win. Why did Durant go to Golden State? Ding, ding, ding…because it gave him the best chance to win! LeBron and KD are both historically great players who put on a masterful display in the Finals. LeBron’s legacy shouldn’t be tarnished for losing to a great Warriors team, and Durant’s legacy shouldn’t be lessened for leading an already great Warriors team to even greater heights, going 16-1 en route to a championship. I don’t know how anyone could come away from watching that series thinking anything other than LeBron and Durant are both historically great and unique players. Fans were robbed of never seeing a Kobe-LeBron Finals; personally, I am delighted we’ve now been treated to two LeBron-KD showdowns. If the Lakers still suck next year, I wouldn’t mind seeing LeBron vs. Durant Part III.

From a fan perspective: I get it. The playoffs sucked this year. There were too many blowouts. The Finals matchup seemed inevitable from day one because the Warriors and Cavs were so talented. Yet I contest that even in a 4-1 series featuring only two games decided by fewer than 10 points the Finals was still compelling, must-see television precisely because the Warriors and Cavaliers had so much star power. More than any other sport, the NBA is a star-driven league. Dynasties rule in the NBA. That has been true since Russell’s Celtics in the 60s. But the true origins of the “super team” superstar model goes back to the “glory days” of the 80s. Winning an NBA championship has—with very few exceptions—always meant fielding a roster with at least two future Hall-of-Famers. The 80s Lakers had Magic and Kareem, and then they added James Worthy. The Celtics had Bird, McHale, Parish, and Dennis Johnson, and then they added Bill Walton!). The Pistons had Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Dennis Rodman. The 90s Bulls had Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman. The 00s Lakers had Shaq and Kobe. The Spurs had Duncan and some combination of Robinson/Parker/Ginobli/Kawhi. The 2008 Celtics had Pierce, Garnett, and Allen. The Heat had LeBron, Wade, Bosh, and Allen. You get the idea. Heck, even the 2004 Pistons, who defeated the Lakers “super team” of Shaq/Kobe/Gary Payton/Karl Malone, had four all-stars in Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, and Ben Wallace.

Yes, the Warriors were a “super team” in 2017, but they’re just the latest in a long list of NBA super teams. Maybe they will win the next 5 championships and the rest of the league will waive the white flag of surrender, but remember…Shaq and Kobe only won 3 when critics thought they’d own the whole decade. LeBron’s Heat only won 2 despite his press conference promises to win more. So let’s not crown the Warriors 2018-2022 champions yet. They still have to play the games. They still have to earn it.

That’s what they did this year. And they did it all fair and square. This team was constructed expertly. They didn’t cheat. They brought back players like Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala, former lottery picks willing to fit into a championship team as role players. They drafted well. Steph Curry was picked 7th (behind players like Hasheem Thabeet and fellow point guards Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn). Klay Thompson was selected 11th (behind three players on the current Cavs roster, including Derrick Williams). Draymond Green went in the second round (35th overall), so the odds are your team team passed him up. They added veterans like Zaza Pachulia and David West and found a rookie worthy of NBA Finals closeout game playing time in Patrick McCaw. And they worked the salary cap to perfection to sign Kevin Durant. The rest, as they say, is history.

I am not a Warriors fan, but I choose not to hate. I prefer to celebrate and marvel at greatness. Durant and the Warriors earned that this season and this NBA Finals.

LeBron James: 2009 NBA MVP

Last year was one of the most competitive NBA MVP races I can remember. Eventually, Kobe Bryant received both the official NBA honor and my unofficial vote (but not before some serious thought on the issue.)

After the success of last year’s methodology, I tried the same thing again this year. I narrowed the pool of MVP candidates to 10, and then asked myself 10 questions. For each question, I rated the candidates. The number one answer received 10 points for that question, second place received nine points and so on.

After tallying the total points for all 10 questions, last year’s winner, Kobe Bryant fell just one point shy of his 2008 mark, but Kobe’s 78 points was only good enough for second in 2009. The winner, scoring an astounding 87 (out of a possible 100) points was LeBron James.

Honestly, this exercise in justifying the MVP may be rendered unnecessary for the foreseeable future. Despite great seasons from Dwight Howard, Dwayne Wade and Bryant, no one stacks up to James. And, at 24 years old, it’s scary but logical to believe King James is only going to get better.

Statistics don’t quite do James justice. Neither do superlatives. The best way to appreciate his game is to watch him night in and night out. From the moment he entered the league, there was no doubt that he was physically gifted. But a summer that included a gold medal run with Kobe Bryant and Team USA in China, LeBron entered this season with a new sense of purpose, drive and determination.

Suddenly his will to win met—if not surpassed—his unbelievable array of physical gifts. He’s not perfect. He could still improve his free throw shooting (though he did go from 71 to 78 percent this year). He could still develop a go-to move and a counter move in the post. But this is not the time to nitpick greatness.

LeBron is a singular talent unlike anything the NBA has ever seen before. That’s right. Ever. You can compare him to Magic or Michael or even Kobe. But truth be told, LeBron James is the prototype.

At 6-feet, 8-inches tall and 250 pounds, LeBron is built like a professional wrestler. Streaking down the court to finish a fast break or pin a helpless opponent off the backboard, he runs and jumps like an Olympic track star. And he does it all with the passing skills and decision making ability of a Hall of Fame quarterback. Of course, he also manages to synthesize all of these talents together into something that looks like basketball—only a brand we’d never dream of playing.

On any given night, LeBron may put up a triple double. On any given play, he may put a would-be shot blocker on a poster. And at any given moment, he can make a crowd of thousands say, “Wow!”

Of course LeBron will win the MVP for what he does on the court, but he’s just as valuable everywhere else. The rapport he has with his teammates is palpable. The connection he has with the home fans in Cleveland is tangible—just look at their home record. His personality is personable, his conversations engaging, his brand bordering on Jordan.

The only thing left for LeBron this season is an NBA championship. That’s the missing piece. His Cavaliers will enter the playoffs as the number one overall seed, which means that they, and more specifically he, will be labeled the favorites by many to defeat the defending champion Celtics and likely Western Conference Champion Lakers in the Finals.

In the last 20 years, only four players have won the NBA MVP and NBA championship in the same season (Michael Jordan ’91, ’92, ’96, ’98; Hakeen Olajuwon ’94; Shaquille O’Neal ’00; Tim Duncan ’03).

LeBron isn’t worried about replicating history. He’s determined to make it. But if he’s ever going to surpass Michael Jordan as the public’s consensus greatest player of all-time, it’s going to take more than winning an MVP award (Jordan has five of those). It’s going to take NBA Finals MVP awards (Jordan has six). Still, LeBron’s 2008-09 season was a thing of beauty for fans of basketball. And for that, he deserves recognition as this year’s MVP.

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.