On Tuesday night when the referees toss the ball up to begin the 2012 NBA Finals, another chapter of basketball lore will be etched into its rich history. The Finals mark the end of the 2012 NBA season, one whose existence was in jeopardy around the days of Thanksgiving. After navigating the treacherous regular season that saw its share of injuries and uninspired play, the basketball God’s rewarded us with the Finals matchup that fans deserved to experience. Both the Heat and Thunder are two of the League’s most exciting teams. Never before has a Finals series seen the amount of sheer athleticism and offensive explosion that both the Heat and Thunder possess. More anticipated than the clashing of the two best, most explosive teams, is the battle that will ensue on the court, and all the talk off the court between, and about the two team’s best players respectively. LeBron James and Kevin Durant will both be prominent in the cross-hairs of the media, and rightfully so, as both are playing the best basketball of their lives and are the two shiniest jewels in the NBA crown. Their styles of play could not be more different, but what the two Small Forwards share is their own elite status as the game’s best at the position, and perhaps best in the NBA overall. With Durant and James going toe-to-toe, the NBA has a chance to showcase two of its brightest stars at the height of their primes, an experience basketball fans rarely get during the pageantry that is the NBA Finals.
As basketball fans, were lucky to have James and Durant, both once-in-a-generation players, grace the League at the same time, let alone these Finals. It’s like the two are basketball playing cyborgs from outer space, and both happened to land on Earth at the same time, each revolutionizing the game as Small Forwards in their own distinct ways. Now, they each get to battle it out for their first O’Brien trophy on National T.V. Very rarely do the breaks of professional team sports allow the two best players in the League, playing similar positions, to square up in a Finals series. Not even the all-mighty Nike could get what they wanted, when puppet characters of James and Kobe Bryant were busy taking up advertisements everywhere. That ship has sailed and looks farther than it looks near. James and Durant, now unanimously considered 1-2 in the world, decided to take matters in their own hands in their respective Conference Finals, and puppeteered there teams both into the ultimate round themselves. It was far from easy though, as both James and Durant had to flex their muscles and grind their teams through to the Finals. James, with his team down 3-2 to the Celtics, fought off elimination by showing a resolve not yet seen in LeBron. His Game Six dominance in Boston set the tone for his Heat to come back in the series, highlighting a team and superstar that had had enough. All the criticism and hate that the world dished on James, he shot right back on the Celtics in the form of a historic ECF, with averages of 34pts 11rebs and 4asts on 52% shooting. Durant and his Thunder squad faced a similarly uphill battle, against a Spurs team in the WCF that had them down 0-2 and in the midst of a 20 game winning streak. Durant improbably led his team to four straight victories, averaging 30pts, 7.5rebs, and 5.5asts a game while shooting 53% himself and earning his first trip to the Finals. Both James and Durant are the very definition of “super star” and both played up to their status when their teams needed it the most, setting up the matchup that can only be defined as a “dream”, a crazy basketball fantasy.
When Kobe’s Lakers took on Allen Iverson’s Sixers in the ’01 Finals, its arguable that the matchup featured the two best 2-guards in the League going head to head for all to see. Then Shaq kind of ruined that experience (along with Dikembe’s face). When Shaq and Hakeem went against each other in the Finals of ’95, the two also represented the best at their positions, with Shaq entering his prime. It was the two best, matched head to head like the clash of two Titans. Wilt and Russel had the same dynamic, and there was no second best to Jordan; he was the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, AND 5th best shooting guard in the League (Latrell Sprewell, anyone?). Even if MJ had a counterpart, being matched in the Finals is a situation that requires a touch of luck. Then consider us, in 2012, very lucky.
These Finals will pit Durant and James against one another, the two best at their craft, at the height of their stars. Both are unique, physical specimens with highly transcendent talents, whose games capture our collective imagination. Call it “Magic and Bird”, the collision of two immovable objects at the same position, both focal points for their teams respective success. While the NBA Finals are every ball players dream , Durant and James played against each other last summer in a less official arena. Durant was notably busy last Summer during the lockout, playing in every and any game there was available in the world. James didn’t keep a quiet profile himself, as the now three-time MVP made cameo appearances in charity and Pro-Am games, wowing crowds worldwide as well. With a litany of NBA stars competing in these now, much hyped games, the two had a chance to match up last Summer twice, using the Team Melo vs. Team Goodman Challenge, and the CP3 All-Star Classic as a precursor for the 2012 Finals. Ask anyone in those gyms last Summer which two they’d rather see go head-to-head in the NBA Finals, and I’d bet Durant and James would be a popular demand. The two get together for at least four games this Summer in the 2012 NBA Finals, and with everybody watching, these ones all count.