Everyone does it, this used to include me.
Up until this season, I was just like every other sports fan. No matter what you could do as a star in the NBA I felt the need to compare what you did or who you were to someone of the past. For my generation it is always “Kobe already did it”, or “Kobe wouldn’t have let that happen”. For those older than me the first person used is always Michael Jordan followed by Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley and so many others. We see it all the time on TV where the analyst has to compare players of the past to the stars of the league now and you always see that for some reason the stars of today can never get to the level of past superstars.
We need to stop that.
Yesterday Kevin Durant received his first NBA MVP trophy after a season in which he averaged 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 5.5 assist per game. It was a long time coming for Durant, who has been widely regarded as one of the top players in the world and known as the best scorer in the NBA. He doesn’t necessarily have the marquee nickname like how LeBron James has “King James” and Kobe Bryant has “The Black Mamba”. When when we tried to give him one earlier in the season and he jokingly tried to give himself one with “The Servant”, it never stuck and everyone simply went back to calling him “KD”. He doesn’t have the nickname, but he doesn’t need it. He’s a top 3 player in the league, now a league MVP, and yet it seems no matter what the world will not be ready to appreciate Kevin Durant or in fact, any other uprising young superstar in the NBA.
It’s time for a change (I owe you one Barack).
When watching the press conference for KD the one thing that truly blew my mind is the fact that what we’ve been witnessing has been going seven years strong. I immediately went on YouTube and watched the highlights of his rookie season and was fascinated. It feels like Durant has only been in the league five years.
As a Los Angeles Lakers fan, my first true glimpse of KD did not come until the 2010 playoffs when the Lakers and Thunder squared off in the first round. The series went six games, but I remember it not being easy considering the series clinching game was won on a put back by Pau Gasol. After that season the Thunder kept getting better every year, similar to what we’ve witnessed with the Indiana Pacers over the past three years.
During the NBA lockout when players weren’t at meetings they were playing charity all-star games. During the summer of 2011 Durant showed up to New York City and put on a 66-point performance at the Annual EBC Rucker classic in Harlem. Rucker Park is the symbolic sanctuary of street basketball. Anyone who is anyone has attended the Rucker whether they were a spectator or a player like Durant was. Later on in 2012 Durant made the United States Olympics men’s national basketball team. In the Olympics Durant averaged 19.5 points per game and capped it off with a 30 point, 9 rebound performance in the gold medal game against Spain. After his Olympic performance his stock shot up higher and eventually cultivated to having us where are today.
When I saw that Kevin Durant was in his 7th season it made me wonder how long other players have actually been in the league, including this season:
LeBron James: 11
Dwayne Wade: 11
Carmelo Anthony: 11
Chris Bosh: 11
Dwight Howard: 10
Chris Paul: 9
LaMarcus Aldridge: 8
Russell Westbrook: 6
Derrick Rose: 5
Stephen Curry: 5
Blake Griffin: 4
Paul George: 4
Kyrie Irving: 3
It is a very sample sized list, but at the same time it is meant to be the focus of this piece. As a Lakers fan I have been blessed to watch the greatness of Kobe Bryant for over the past decade, but while watching these playoffs and seeing how much fun it has been it didn’t even cross my mind that there was no Kobe for me to tune into for a Western conference game. For the most part of the season there has been no Kobe at all, and it might have made me a better overall basketball fan. Regardless of how the season panned out, I still watched the Lakers play (Swaggy P you’re the best), but at the same time I watched other teams and appreciated what I was tuning into.
Say what you want, but no one appreciated how truly great LeBron James was until about 2 years ago. For eight seasons, all you ever heard about LeBron was that he would never be like Michael Jordan no matter what he did. When he wasn’t being compared to MJ, he was being compared to Kobe. Here’s what I don’t understand. Everyone in the world knows what Michael Jordan did, and what Kobe has done, so is there really a need for the “He can never be Jordan or Kobe” sentence to be sputtering out every time a player in today’s NBA does accomplish something? Take talking to adults for instance. The first thing they say is that the players today could never play in the league back during their childhood and how the league is supremely soft. It is never a compliment from these people, only criticism over harebrained situations that can never happen, such as “LeBron would never have been able to dunk on Patrick Ewing”.
At the end of the day there is a reason the past is the past. It’s a time frame that has happened and will never come back. There are players whom in the future will have their idols be players not named Michael Jordan, and for those kids the first thing you should not say is “kid you know nothing about basketball”. Instead understand that there is a new generation of stars in the league that the kids have that they can look up to. For those of us who are in the midst of watching these great players, lets enjoy what we are watching without saying “Man Jordan would have made that shot Mr. Durant”. Instead lets just appreciate what we have in front of us because soon they’ll retire and appreciating something once it’s gone is never the same as during the situation, especially when they will never be back.