After being drafted by the Seattle Supersonics in the 2007 NBA Draft, Kevin Durant knew that he would fall in the shadow of LeBron James, who had a following of millions of fans who would agree that he was the best player in the world. Even though Kobe Bryant was winning championships, James would win his first MVP award a year after Bryant won his last, and he would never look back. He has won four total MVP awards since then, along with two NBA Championships.
In the distance, Durant lurked from behind just as James did Bryant. He was patient and kept slowly improving until he took the next step as a player. Prior to the beginning of this season, the Miami Heat and James were picked to once again represent the NBA as the league’s champions. The only problem has been that Durant is no longer waiting in the shadows; he has stepped into the spotlight and has put on a show for the ages.
The story for the Oklahoma City Thunder was completely different on the other hand. The injury to Russell Westbrook had the most loyal Thunder fans questioning whether or not the team would be good enough to make it out of the jungle that is the Western Conference. Surprisingly, Westbrook returned early and all faith had been restored in the Thunder; more than a few big wins had reassured us all that the team was back and better than ever.
Westbrook has been averaging 21 points, six rebounds and seven assists per game during a season in which Durant was already being considered to league MVP, one spot behind no one other than his Achilles’ heel, James. As the gap between James and Durant began to close, surprising news on Westbrook’s knee would put him out of action and set Oklahoma City back just as they started to gain some serious momentum.
Thunder fans were once again where they were last year in the playoffs: missing their star point-guard and looking for answers. This time, a little factor called experience has made a huge difference in the team’s success without Westbrook.
Oklahoma City’s journey without him began a little shaky, but things would smooth out as Durant started to turn it up a few notches. Together, the Thunder has fought extremely hard and the team’s dedication to improvement has resulted in wins. As of today, the Oklahoma City is on an eight-game winning streak and Durant is playing with a killer instinct that has rarely been seen in any era of the NBA.
His dominance in the month of January and the leadership ability he has shown through tough times has many people reevaluating their opinions about who the best player in the world is. Durant is in the same position as James was with Bryant, and as Bryant was with Michael Jordan. James will not let go of the MVP award without a fight, but at this point it is Durant’s race to lose.
First, it will be the MVP award, and then comes the championships. If Durant can win that elusive title, just as James had to do before he was regarded as the best, then the NBA will have a new king.
While the story of James’ and Durant’s legacies still has many unread chapters ahead, the next stage of this act begins on Wednesday night as the Thunder are in Miami for both teams’ first meeting of the season. Sure, this game will be big, but will not mean much so early in the season, especially with there being key injuries on both sides. Regardless of the outcome, the main course in this game is the matchup between Durant and James.
This may be one of the rare cases where individual performances could be more important than a single mid-season win. With Durant’s outburst of 11 straight 30-point games and James’ slide in production in some areas, both will be looking to prove something to everyone, including themselves.