The Heat and Thunder played Wednesday night, and judging by the buildup, one might have thought this had never happened before (let alone happened in the NBA Finals a couple of years back).
It has suddenly become fashionable to pose this question: Who is better, LeBron James or Kevin Durant? Basically, it’s a challenge to the previous notion that James is the unquestioned best player in the NBA right now (and possibly the best player of all time).
It’s also one of those classic bar stool debates that ultimately proves to be unfair to both players and impossible to answer. Here is why:
• The players will never be in the same stage of their careers at the same time. Want to feel old? LeBron turns 30 in December. Durant, on the other hand, is four years younger. He is about at the point in his career where LeBron was during his final year with the Cavaliers. While it is certainly fun to watch them square off, they have different objectives.
• Because of that, it’s not only hard to measure them head-to-head, but also hard to define their accomplishments. Durant has reached the NBA Finals once, while James has made it four times (three with the Heat, once with the Cavs) and won two titles. But when James was 25, he had also made only one Finals appearance. If Durant doesn’t match James’ titles eventually while staying in Oklahoma City, does that make him inferior? Hardly, since James only got his rings when he hand-picked his team and supporting cast.
• They are completely different types of players. Durant is a deadly scorer who is nearly impossible to guard because of his height, range and quick release. While he is also a solid rebounder and is averaging a career-high 5.2 assists this season, he is primarily a scorer. James is a hybrid who can quite literally play all five positions. He, too, has worked to improve areas of his game, and he is nearly impossible to guard because of his power, vision and range of skills.
Trying to compare Durant and James might be fun, but any answer is elusive at best. Instead, let’s just enjoy two of the greatest players of all time and hope they have many more NBA duels to come.