NBA Finals Preview: The King’s Coming For His Crown
Talk about Christmas in July…Santa paid us all an early visit this summer and delivered, in my opinion, the best damn present since I received a Nintendo 64 as a five year old. Sitting under the tree for everyone to see is an NBA Finals matchup of the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. the Miami Heat. This Goliath vs. Goliath, heavyweight showdown pits the two best players on the planet against one another, with 3-time scoring champion Kevin Durant going toe-to-toe with 3-time MVP LeBron James. The two superstars who have set the league on fire this year in a desperate quest for their first ring, get to battle it out on the biggest of stages, the NBA Finals. This is every basketball fans wet dream. Somewhere Stephen A. Smith’s big head just exploded from sheer excitement.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant have taken very different routes to reach the NBA Finals, but both have arrived at the same destination, leaving paths of destruction in their wake. Durant was drafted #2 overall out of Texas by the then Seattle Supersonics, behind first overall pick, Greg Oden, who went to the Portland Trail Blazers. Flash forward five years. Durant has racked up three scoring titles while Greg Oden has logged half as many minutes in his injury-riddled NBA career as KD has swished 3’s. Poor Portland. Wait a second, this rings a bell…the Blazers passing up a sure-fire Hall of Famer and possibly one of the greatest of all time for a floundering, oft-injured big man. Ah yes, maybe that’s because in 1984 they passed on taking some Joe Schmo named Michael Jordan and instead selected Sam Bowie, dubbed the biggest bust in NBA history by Sports Illustrated. The only people who are allowed to feel worse then Blazers fans are Supersonics fans who have had to sit back and watch their once beloved team move to Oklahoma City of all places and wreak havoc on the NBA. But enough of the pity party, back to ballin’!
The basketball gods laid down the ultimate gauntlet for K.D. and the Thunder to find the Holy Grail and reach the NBA Finals. As the saying goes, to be the best you’ve gotta beat the best, and the Thunder did just that. They were “rewarded” for having the 2nd best record in the West by drawing a first round matchup against the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, whom they promptly swept. Waiting for them in Round 2 was Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers, whom OKC dismantled in five games without breaking a sweat. In the Western Conference Finals awaited the four-time champion San Antonio Spurs, who looked unbeatable and were riding an 18-game winning streak into the series. After losing the first two games, the Thunder rallied behind the stellar play of Kevin Durant to win the next four, eliminating a stunned Spurs squad and clinching their first Finals berth since ’96. The Heat’s path to the Finals on the other hand, was a walk in the park compared to what OKC had to endure.
The Heat were supposedly the one’s on upset alert when they were pitted against Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks in Round One but made quick work of them, winning in five games. In Round 2, they faced a young Indiana Pacers team who gave them much more trouble then they anticipated but still found a way to win the series 4-2. Finally in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat had some real competition in the ageless wonders, the Boston Celtics, and took the series to seven grueling games before finally coming out victorious. Both young guns shot their way into the Finals and will come out guns a blazing tonight in their epic duel for a ring.
Unlike Durant, LeBron skipped college, getting drafted #1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers fresh out of High School. Unlike Durant, LeBron was anointed the heir apparent to Michael Jordan’s throne while he was still dunking on pimple-faced teenagers in Akron. LeBron had impossible expectations to live up to and immense amounts of pressure heaped onto his broad shoulders the second he stepped onto an NBA court. Unlike Durant, it doesn’t matter how dominant LeBron plays and how many rings he eventually wins, because it will never be “good enough”. LeBron was supposed to be the savior of Cleveland and finally bring a title to their championship-starved town. Unlike Durant, LeBron abandoned his hometown team after a few failed championship runs for greener grass down in Miami, to team up with fellow superstars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. LeBron nationally televised his “Decision” to take his talents to South Beach and stab Cleveland in the back in one of the most chauvinistic displays ever witnessed. Unlike Durant, LeBron has already reached the Finals twice before and failed miserably each time, crumbling under the pressure of the moment and disappearing in the 4th quarter of games. But just like Kevin Durant, LeBron James is still ring-less and hungry for a title. And just like Kevin Durant, LeBron James did not reach the NBA Finals alone.
KD and LBJ have all-world talents as sidekicks in Russell Westbrook and Dwayne Wade. Westbrook and Wade are the Robin to LeBron and Durant’s Batman. Durant and the Thunder also get a huge boost off the bench from Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden and have a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Serge Ibaka (aka “Iblocka”), manning the paint. Miami’s Big Three is rounded out by the unheralded, underrated, and seriously underappreciated Chris Bosh. However, Bosh has been injured and absent for much of the playoffs so LeBron and Wade had to put the team on their backs and do all of the heavy lifting. LeBron has dismantled every opponent who’s dared to stop him, posting ridiculous, video-game-like numbers night in and night out, and saving his best performances for when his team needed him the most. This post-season, he’s averaging 30.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.9 steals and nearly a block per game, all while shooting over 50% from the field. Not to be outdone, Kevin Durant is on a tear of his own, averaging 27.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks, all while shooting over 50% from the field.
I’m salivating more than Pavlov’s dog just thinking about these two basketball titans going head to head. (David Stern and his wallet are just as giddy.) This years Finals could go down as one of the greatest matchups ever, a matchup basketball fans should get used to seeing for the next few years and a matchup that will surely be a treat to watch. This series is almost guaranteed to go seven gut-wrenching games, with LeBron and Durant putting on performances for the ages. As much as I want to hate LeBron and pray for his demise, I think he is ready to become a champion and get the 800-pound gorilla off his back. And (a very small) part of me is actually rooting for the 3-time MVP to overcome his Finals demons and earn a spot as one of the best to ever play the game by finally winning a title. As basketball fans, we all need to step back, take notice and appreciate greatness when it is right in front of us. Either way at the end of this series one of the best ballers of our generation will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. For the first time in his professional basketball career, I believe LeBron James will finally win an NBA Title at age 27, a year younger than Michael Jordan when he won his first ring. America, I think it’s finally time to give “The King” his crown.