I want that Game 7 back so bad. Like, in a very painful, gut-wrenching, throw myself through a wall type of way. But KD coming to the Warriors, that helps about as much as anything can. In fact, if the Warriors can pull it off and become a multi-championship dynasty, I will gladly give up the 73-9 dream season – I love KD. But right now, I still want Game 7 back. Moving on…
This does not happen without LeBron James. LeBron joining the Heat in 2010, that was groundbreaking. I was the first time an MVP-caliber player really controlled his own destiny and decided to do what he rightly thought would put him in the best position to win a championship. I took issue with it. Not because he owed Cleveland anything, but because he turned it into a gigantic show and then proceeded to rip the hearts out of every member of his hometown with the words, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.” It just seemed emotionally obtuse. On the basketball side of things, I thought his best move would have been to go to Chicago and play with Rose and Noah; in my mind better fits for LeBron. Turns out Miami was just fine. And then two years ago, LeBron did it again: he took his career in his own hands and returned to Cleveland.
There is always going to be a portion of the population who will look at LeBron’s decision to leave for Miami as “copping out.” Winning in Cleveland has probably silenced the large majority of that group. But it was the smart thing to do. The history books are filled with guys who never won a championship and are relegated to second-class status in the minds of fans. Talk all the smack you want about LeBron, but he has now solidified himself as a top-five player in NBA history. He doesn’t get that without those two rings in Miami.
For better or worse, KD’s actions will be measured against LeBron’s. They are both small forwards. They are both transcendent players and much like LeBron was compared to MJ and Kobe, KD will be have to try to fill LeBron’s shoes. Also, KD’s actions are driven by LeBron’s because LeBron has been an excellent player turned businessman. It would be silly for KD to not see how LeBron carries himself and adjust accordingly. When LeBron received backlash from the Decision, KD saw the negative press and decided to tweet his full extension. He worked out with LeBron in the offseason to improve his game and became a 7-footer with a point guard’s crossover. That led to his MVP season. Now he has freedom to make his own decision and hear pitches from other teams. He saw what winning two championships in Miami would do for LeBron. That’s why he picked Golden State.
A lot of people will see this as LeBron scaring KD into joining up with the Warriors to beat him. Or the Warriors needing to join up with KD to beat LeBron. These people are forgetting that the it took an epic performance from the Cavs and a truly ugly performance from the Warriors for the game 7 to happen the way it did (please, can someone pass the salt). They’re also forgetting that the Warriors were planning on pitching to KD for quite some time and recruitment started years ago through visits to the chapel and friendly conversations during Team USA summers. No, LeBron’s legacy is the way he shifted the power into the hands of the superstar players. Up until LeBron went to the Heat in 2010, there was no precedent for a player of his level to do that. Last year you saw it with LaMarcus Aldridge joining the Spurs and this year you see it with KD. If a player cares more about winning than the money involved (although winning usually leads to more endorsement money), they are now able to go where they want. Although that’s been allowed in free agency for a while, really great players have tended to avoid the negative publicity that came along with those decisions. LeBron has proven that you can still create a lasting legacy as long as you win. He went through the hellfire first.
It may be the basketball “easy way out.” But you also have to think about what happens if KD does not win in Golden State. It’s hard to win a championship, a lot of things have to break right. Just ask the Warriors this year and the Heat in 2011. Hell, ask the Thunder from 2012-2016. Trophies are not gifted just because you have the best team. If KD had stayed with OKC and not won, there might be a portion of the population who would appreciate his loyalty. But in the long run, his name would be marginalized in NBA record books. Ask Karl Malone, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, and countless other great players who retired without rings. Now, he has a great chance to make good on the rings side of things. But if he doesn’t, he has set himself up to be considered a tremendous failure. There is an immense amount of pressure on the Warriors going forward – maybe even more than this past playoff run. Plus, they are going to be full-fledged villains in most arenas. I’m curious to see what a relatively fun-loving group of guys does with all the hate they’ll be getting. Kevin Durant seems like a legitimately decent human being and I can’t imagine it will be easy for him to see videos of crying toddlers and burning jerseys. LeBron fought through it and emerged, king of the league. Let’s see if KD has the strength to do the same.