By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
So the Golden State Warriors have all but done it. Not only are they one win from sweeping the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they are also 48 minutes from sweeping the playoffs, becoming the first team ever to go 16-0 in the NBA postseason, which would also make them minted members of history.
And they are proving an ancient NBA maxim: The best team beats the best player.
But it seems that’s not enough. The media is so giddy over this new world order that more than a few blowhards are asserting that the world’s greatest player is no more. We’re now hearing that Kevin Durant not only joined the league’s best team, but he’s now elbowed past LeBron James as its preeminent player.
Have we become so myopic, such absolute prisoners of the moment, that the greatest players are simply interchangeable?
Has Durant reached seven straight NBA Finals — four with one team, then three with another? James is his team’s best scorer, rebounder and passer, averaging a triple-double in the NBA Finals, yet he’s supposedly passing some symbolic torch to Durant as the new face of the hardwood.
The ADD nature of new media and social media is more moody than ever. Just last summer, we were killing Durant for fleeing a team that had the Warriors down 3-1 in the Western Conference finals. And surely some of those same people are now kneeling at the Durant altar. In one week, he’s mutated from Mr. Softie to Mr. Basketball.
And we forget James did last year what Durant could not — jam the stake into the Warriors’ march toward eternity, beating a 73-win club while overcoming a 3-1 Finals deficit. Just a week ago, we were wondering if James was almost at the same historic level as the GOAT, Michael Jordan. Yet in three quick games, he has been demoted to a top-five player, somewhere behind Golden State’s gaggle of stars.
And this is not to bash Durant, who’s a great player, and maybe a better person. It’s easy to forget now that he’s one win from his first ring, but not long ago he had most of us reaching for the Kleenex while he tearfully accepted the NBA MVP award, thanking his mother for keeping him out of trouble and on the court.
Sure, we wanted to see the same teams from 2016 play each other again in 2017. And adding Durant was like a fighter narrowly losing a title fight then removing the padding from his gloves for the rematch.
And while it jarred our old-world sensibilities to see him leave Oklahoma City for Oakland — and I too bashed the move — he did what most of us likely would have done in the exact same position — join a better company, which also provided him a higher personal and professional ceiling.
Why can’t that be enough? It’s not enough to go from afterthought last year to NBA Finals MVP this year? Has this calendar year not been good enough to Durant? Must we add fictional layers to his name, and game? More than a few of us would take being the second-best player on the planet while playing on one of the greatest teams in NBA history.
Maybe this is the wrong time to write this story. Maybe the Warriors, the victors, not only get the spoils, but also the embellished characteristics that come with it. Should we just say Durant is the best player simply because he’s on the best team?
Sorry, some of us just can’t. Durant may be king of the 2017 season. But King James still owns the court.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel