OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant was only 5 years old the last time it happened, so it’s no surprise he was unable to remember a matchup as such.
He and Miami Heat forward LeBron James meet in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena. It is the first time the top two players at one position have faced off on this stage since centers Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1993.
The matchup has grabbed all the attention, but the participants refuse to play into the story line. It is the Heat against the Thunder.
Not LeBron versus Durant.
“Everybody is going to make the most out of the match up or me versus LeBron, but it’s the Thunder versus the Heat,” said Durant, the league’s scoring champion at 28 points a game. “One guy versus another guy, it’s not going to be a one on one match up to win the series, it’s going to be all about the team. It’s going to be fun.”
This intriguing duel will draw all the headlines no matter how hard James and Durant try to downplay it. They are generally considered the league’s best two players, with James besting Durant for regular-season most valuable player honors.
The victor here can instantly lay claim to the title of the game’s top player while also hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time. James is playing in the Finals for the third time while Durant is making his debut.
“I don’t really care. I don’t really get involved in the best player in the game,” said James, a three-time league MVP. “It doesn’t matter to me, really. When I go out on the basketball court each and every night, I want to be the best player in the game. I want to be the best player on that floor, and that’s just how I approach the game. So I don’t really care what people say at the end of this series if KD or LeBron is the best player in the league.”
Fans have to go back to the 1992 Finals to see a pair of perimeter players square off for the championship. That was when Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls past Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trail Blazers. Before that, it was the Magic Johnson-led Los Angeles Lakers battling Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics.
Now, it’s the players who go by the nicknames King James and Durantula.
“I’m hyped to see that matchup,” Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said. “Both of them are unbelievable talents, both are playing the same position going head up.”
James was on a similar collision course in 2009 when his Cleveland Cavaliers were poised to meet Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the Finals. Nike even ran a series of ads during the regular season, featuring their puppet likenesses.
The meeting of the superstars was foiled when the Cavs were upset by the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals.
James’ second chance began the moment the Heat defeated the Celtics on Saturday to advance
“Yeah, I mean, that’s a sexier match up, I guess,” Durant said. “But I don’t read newspapers, I don’t get on Twitter anymore, I just focus on what I need to do and what we need to do as a team. To be honest, really, outside of me knowing what you guys are thinking, that’s all I’ve heard about the matchup is from (the media).”
The beauty of it is James and Durant have been close acquaintances for the past several years. They sparked a friendship when Durant was in high school. After years of keeping in contact, they became the talk of the offseason when they held workouts together in James’ hometown of Akron, Ohio.
They then competed in a flag football game during the lockout that was broadcast live on the Internet.
“From day one, I always lent my hand out to guide him if he needed it, to help him, to mentor him if he needed it through anything,” James said. “…Our relationship is really good. Our relationship is going to continue to grow, and I’m happy to be in this position where I can compete against him.”
|Game 1||June 12||at Oklahoma City||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Game 2||June 14||at Oklahoma City||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Game 3||June 17||at Miami||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Game 4||June 19||at Miami||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Game 5*||June 21||at Miami||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Game 6*||June 24||at Oklahoma City||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Game 7*||June 26||at Oklahoma City||9 p.m.||ABC|