This summer former MVP and now Finals MVP and NBA Champion Kevin Durant made a critical decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder and join the Golden State Warriors. A decision that fans and media around the NBA criticized harshly. After Golden State ended the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James hopes at back to back titles a popular debate has resurfaced; Is Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Golden State Warriors any different the LeBron James decision to join the Miami Heat. I am going to explain to you why these two choices can’t really be compared.
I am going to start with this simple statement…I can’t blame Durant for his choice, because I think it was an easy choice to make. To understand this debate you have to first understand the stories behind it.
LeBron James as an 18 year old kid fresh out of Akron St. Vincent St. Mary High school in Akron, Ohio was selected as the 1st overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2003 NBA Draft. The Cavaliers have never appeared in the NBA Finals in their franchise history which dates back to the 1970’s. The city of Cleveland has not won a Major Championship of any kind since 1964 Cleveland Browns. LeBron was viewed as a savior to the city, being the hometown kid. Fans knew that he would be the one to lead them to the promise land and dubbed him “The Chosen One”. LeBron spent 7 years scratching, clawing and fighting to lead this franchise to significance ultimately leading a roster Zydrunas Ilgauskus and a handful of YMCA players to the Cavaliers first NBA Finals appearance in 2007 where they ended being swept by Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. LeBron then fought to get back for the next two seasons before he decided to “Bring his talents to South Beach” in 2010.
Kevin Durant attended 1 year at the University of Texas where he took the world by storm as a slender athletic specimen before being drafted 2nd overall by the Seattle Super Sonics in the 2007 NBA Draft. Durant’s rookie year was the last year that the Sonics were in Seattle. The franchise relocated to Oklahoma City where they became the Thunder. The Thunder became the first major sports franchise in Oklahoma City. Durant quickly became the face of the franchise, where he and running mate Russell Westbrook lead the Thunder to the NBA Finals against LeBron James in the Miami Heat in 2012.
Here is where the debate actually begins. When LeBron chose to leave Cleveland, The Cavaliers were perennial Title contenders solely based on LeBron’s presence on the team, but were never able to make the leap as the team to beat. He left a weak supporting cast to join a Miami Heat team, who in the previous season was led by Dwayne Wade, LeBron’s best friend. The Heat finished the season with 47 wins and 35 losses. A respectable record but it was only 6 games above .500. Dwayne Wade was the only Miami Heat player to make the All-Star Team. Along with LeBron, Toronto Raptors star Chris Bosh also decided to join the Miami Heat where they CREATED a super team which became known as “The Heatles”.
Kevin Durant had the Oklahoma City Thunder widely regarded as the 2nd best team in the Western Conference. Russell Westbrook who is likely to be named this years MVP and Kevin Durant were, much like LeBron and the Cavs, perennial title contenders, but Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors were a huge road block. After winning the NBA Championship in 2015, and destroying everybody on their way to an All-Time NBA Best record of 73 wins and 9 losses, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had the Warriors on the ropes in a best of 7 series where the winner advances to the NBA Finals. The Durant led Oklahoma City Thunder were up 3 games to 1 in the Western Conference Finals before the Warriors stormed back winning the next 3 games to advance to the Finals where they eventually would also blow a 3-1 lead to LeBron James and the Cavs. After the season ended and LeBron finally fulfills a 52 year old Championship drought for the city of Cleveland. Kevin Durant decided to JOIN the Golden State Warriors.
So my first point is Simply this, LeBron left to CREATE a super team while Kevin Durant left to JOIN a super team. I could leave it at that but I want to get into a little bit more detail.
As I mentioned before Dwayne Wade was the only All-Star already established on a 47-35 team.
The Warriors had 3 All-Stars in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Steph Curry was also already at this point a 2-time MVP including being the first unanimous MVP in NBA history. Steph Curry will easily go down as the best 3 point shooter of all time and Klay Thompson is easily top 5 in the league. Draymond Green is widely viewed as one of the top 3 defenders in the NBA and is always in consideration for Defensive Player of the year.
When LeBron left for Miami, his Cavs teams were going up against the Boston Celtics famous “Big-3” of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in the height of their glory. There was nobody on Cleveland’s roster that could provide LeBron with any hope of competing against the Big-3. LeBron knew ultimately his legacy was going to depend on how much jewelry he earned and knew that while in Cleveland his chances were bleak.
When Durant left for Golden State like I mentioned before him and Westbrook had a 3-1 lead over the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals. Although Golden State was a huge road block in Durant’s path to a ring, he proved that it would have been possible for his Thunder to unseat the Warriors.
My second point is this: LeBron left because he didn’t have any help, when Kevin Durant left he played along one of the top 5 players in the NBA and was on a team that could compete with Golden State.
While both LeBron and Durant ended up on super teams that is no question. The difference is one of them created a super team while the other joined one in progress. That alone is enough to end any comparisons in my eyes. Warriors fans will counter with, “What about when LeBron left Miami to go back to Cleveland and create that super team?” Again the answer is simply he CREATED the super team and didn’t JOIN the super team. Durant seemingly took the easy path to a ring while LeBron built his path.
Remember I already said that I don’t blame Kevin Durant for his decision. As a Cavs fan I don’t like it because now the Warriors are seemingly unstoppable as they showed in the 5 game series in the NBA Finals. But it really is a decision I can understand him making, because who wouldn’t want to go play for Steve Kerr and the fun offense and culture he created there. Who wouldn’t want to play alongside two of the best shooters in the game today. Who wouldn’t want to team up with Draymond Green knowing you don’t have to face him as an opponent. I hate the decision, but I don’t blame Kevin Durant. He now has what he wanted which is an NBA Championship and a Finals MVP award to go along with it. His former teammate Russell Westbrook will win the regular season MVP award without him after averaging a Triple-Double.
When LeBron left Cleveland, like many of you I cried. I was upset, and I probably said stupid things about LeBron that I didn’t mean, because that what people do when they get hurt. It hurt to see LeBron go and I rooted against his success in Miami, because I am a Cleveland fan first and foremost. But after his first season away from Cleveland and Miami lost in the Finals, I finally was able to forgive LeBron for leaving. When I looked at the decision logically it made sense to me. Who wouldn’t want to go play ball in Miami with your best friend and chase history? Honestly, it’s kind of a no-brainer. It just sucked for us as Cavs fans. The Cavs went on to become the worst team in the NBA once LeBron left which thankfully landed us Kyrie Irving in the draft. Kyrie seems like he is “the Prince” if you will while LeBron is still “King James”.
When both of them made their decision initially I hated both of them for it. Once i sat back and looked at it I can’t say I blame either of them for the choices that they made. However even though there are SOME similarities, I don’t think their situations are comparable.
Please let me know if you think I’m totally wrong, and let me know why. We will be discussing this topic on the Don’t Stop Believeland Sports Podcast on 6/18. Tell me on Twitter why I’m wrong @DSBPodcast